Why Sell Direct to Readers?

Sell Direct

I'm setting up my site so that I can sell direct to readers. I still plan to offer my books through the major retailers. Selling direct offers many advantages for both authors and readers. I'd planned to do this years ago, but at the time it was a much more difficult thing to set up. Today, many tools exist to make direct sells easier than ever. This post isn't about the details of setting it up so much as why consider it at all?

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A Writer’s Introduction to Life Rolls

The view out my window shows gently falling snow and frosted fir trees. Pretty, so long as I'm sitting here looking out the window. Less so when I head out later to pick up my sick dog from the vet. What does this have to do with life rolls? What are life rolls? Continue Reading

Amazon Has All Your Eggs: Diversifying Cash Streams

Eggs with Amazon logo illustration cash streams

I didn't think about cash streams when I started writing. My basic understanding was that I'd write something, send it out, and I'd either get paid for it or not. Of course, this was back before the Web and before the current age of self-publishing (which has been the model in the past). I wasn't thinking about cash streams or about different ways I might use the copyright on that work. I also didn't consider how long I could continue to benefit from my intellectual property.

Today writers face many different decisions around cash streams and our intellectual property.

Amazon Has All Your Eggs

In the United States (not necessarily in other parts of the world) Amazon is a giant. This dominant market position leads writers to put everything in Amazon's basket by going exclusively with Kindle Select. This can work very well. With the integration of print into KDP, it is also easy to offer paperback copies. It offers promotional opportunities and inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read e-book lending program. Paid by page reads, many writers find a lot of success this way by offering work that readers want.

I've also seen the reactions when Amazon changes how Kindle Unlimited works. A change to recommendations, to what gets paid, can mean that what worked before doesn't work for some writers. With everything in Amazon's basket, writers are vulnerable to such disruptions.

Going Wide

Another group of writers talks about the benefits of going wide to multiple stores and distributors. Whether going directly to Kobo or iTunes or using a service like Draft2Digital, these writers aim to reach as many readers as possible on an international scale. With enough success around the globe, Amazon's share of contributing to the writer's income drops. It still might make up the biggest piece of the pie but it becomes obvious that it isn't the whole pie.

This is where those other cash streams come into the picture. Say sales through Amazon makes up 60% of your income. Does it make sense to drop the other 40%? If you never had anything except Amazon sales it might not be obvious how much you're missing.

It's Not All E-Books

Intellectual property—copyrights you own—can provide an endless variety of income streams. The same story might sell in e-book, different print formats, audiobooks, in periodicals, anthologies, gift boxes, and other formats that you decide to produce. It can be translated into other languages. It can be adapted to other media, such as plays, films, or TV shows. It might become the basis for gaming titles across a variety of game genres. Comic books offer yet another take on your story. Merchandise is another possibility, through licensing or other avenues.

Think about a popular intellectual property, e.g., Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Ask yourself a question about those stories. Would they exist in the way they do if either George had published the story as an exclusive e-book on Amazon? (And yes, I realize that wasn't an option back then.)

What if your book is the ‘next [fill in the blank of your favorite title]'? Even if you don't think that your story has the potential to be the next whatever, there are still so many formats and opportunities available.

And yes, going exclusively with Kindle Select doesn't have to be forever. Except writers do sign exclusive deals all the time with major publishers that have far-ranging implications on how that writer makes money. Get an intellectual property attorney (not an agent) to look at any contract. Amazon is relatively benign in comparison to many publishing contracts. At least with Kindle Select, you can opt out in 90 days—with a publisher contract you might be lucky if you can opt out in 35 YEARS.

Lots of Eggs in Lots of Baskets

That's my strategy (though it isn't true at the moment). As I relaunch my titles and release new titles, I plan to go wide and hit as many formats as possible. I plan to have lots of titles available wherever readers can find them. Lots of eggs in lots of baskets. Some of the eggs might get broken. A basket might develop a hole in the bottom, but I'll have other income streams in place. I may even have a Kindle Select basket with targeted titles that are likely to be of interest to Kindle Unlimited readers. I want to experiment.

What About You?

Do you want Amazon, a publisher, or another vendor to have all your eggs? Share in the comments!

Self-Publish Like A (Badass) Tortoise

Tortoise shell pattern

I am relaunching my writing career this year, planning to move the dial from very few sales to the bestseller ranks. With twenty-four titles including new and previously published titles, I have a lot of work to do. It's easy to get frustrated that I'm not moving faster.

Take Tortoise Steps

I am embracing the tortoise approach to self-publishing. I'm picking my steps to make incremental progress. One thing at a time. Otherwise, it quickly gets too overwhelming.

Examples:

I have a bunch of previously published novels that I want to reissue. I published some under my name, others under pen names, but I plan to bring them back out under my name. I want to change my print-on-demand (POD) approach to move Amazon paperbacks over to the Kindle Direct Platform (KDP) from CreateSpace, move expanded distribution to IngramSpark, add hardcover editions via IngramSpark, and add large print editions on IngramSpark as well. That means I'll have four versions of each book across different formats and platforms.

Then there are e-book editions of each novel. I plan to go direct with KDP, Kobo, and run the rest through Draft2Digital.

The new editions of the books will have new covers (and different print formats require changes there too). Designing and illustrating my own work may not be the best approach from a strictly commercial view. I'm doing it because I love doing illustration work. The artwork hasn't been what I want—yet. I'm getting better and continue to learn.

I also plan to check the interiors to catch mistakes that might have been missed in previous editions.

Then beyond all of that are other things I want to do with the books, such as audiobook versions, other language editions, merchandising, and other projects around my work.

That doesn't even begin to tackle marketing, email lists, and promotion.

Whew!

That's too much! Rather than tackle all of that right now, I plan to take one step at a time. I can create new cover art and update the e-book. I can put the books back up that I took down from Kobo and Draft2Digital to try out Kindle Select. I can create KDP paperbacks even if I don't have the hardcover editions done yet. It doesn't all have to happen right now. The key is just taking those steps, one after another.

Forget the Rabbits!

I hear about writers putting out a book each month and other high-productivity efforts. That's great! I'm glad it works for them. I'd like to increase my production rate, but right now I plan to continue at a pace I can manage. That's okay too. As I relaunch my writing career I try to do something each day that will help me move it forward. Today I wrote ~1,500 words between the blog post, finishing one short story, and starting another story. I listened to podcasts to help me improve. I practiced drawing by creating the pattern for this entry's featured image.

Sounds like a pretty good day to me!

What Steps Are You Taking?

I'd love to hear what steps you're taking to move your creative practice forward! Share your thoughts in the comments.

5 Reason Your Novel Doesn’t Matter—And Why That Is a Good Thing!

Eyes

Fear is a serial killer. Creativity, productivity, confidence—fear kills them all. And writers often fear many things. Rejection tops many lists in its various guises. We might rework a story or novel because on a deep level we feel it is not good enough. We develop rituals to handle the fear even if we fail to recognize that the real problem is that we are afraid.

Realizing that your novel (or story) doesn't matter will set you free to create without limits!

5. Your Novel Is One In a Million (Literally)

Each year human beings publish more books than we can count. Year after year. It has been going on for a very long time. The average American reads 12 books in a year. No matter how many books you write it will never be more than a drop in a very big bucket. That's great! One more reason not to stress about your book. Move on to the next.

4. You Novel Is A Game With No Takebacks

You can't take back a Superbowl. Your team played the best they could in that particular game. They don't get to go back and say, “Wait! We want to redo that play. If we—.” Nope. Game over. They can use what they learned playing that game to try and do better in the next game, but that game is done. The same thing is true with your novel. It's done. Move on and write the next book. Keep repeating that and learning.

3. Your Novel Is Only As Good As What It Taught You

Whether your novel makes you a million dollars or ten dollars (or puts you in the hole)—it doesn't matter. Really. Yes, it matters whether or not you can pay the bills. Which is better?

  • Writing and rewriting a book over and over because you feel your financial future hangs on it?
  • Writing several books in the same time period and learning from each?

If you have several books out your chances of paying the bills increases. There's no guarantee but you can't be sure obsessing over making one book perfect is going to result in increased earnings either. Judge the success of your book by what it teaches you, not by how much money it earns (and you need to take the long view on that too).

2.  Your Novel Is Not Your Story

Your novel doesn't matter because it is only a communication tool. It isn't the story. Think about it. Your writing is a process of encoding marks on the page to tell a story. Do a good job and the reader gets the story you wanted to tell. They experience what you tell them to experience. If you screw it up it's like picking up a call with a bad connection. The reader can't hear you, hangs up, and goes on with their day. So the call didn't go through, so what? Try to make the call again. Or call someone else. If you write a manuscript that doesn't work—pitch it! It doesn't matter. Write it again.

1. You Novel Doesn't Determine Your Future

You wrote a book. Great. Good on you. Now write another. And another. Have fun with it! I often hear people say that you need to treat writing as a job. Okay, I get that, but it doesn't sound fun. Think back to games you played as a kid, at the stories that you made up while you played. Play when you write your novel. Sure, you'll learn from it. Kids learn as they play. Play and learning are inextricably linked. Go play! Have fun. Don't take it so seriously. Then do it again!

Catching the Eye of a Sci-Fi Reader

Alien eye

Who doesn't want to fall in love? Hopefully, you've had the experience of seeing that one perfect book cover that captures your gaze, pulling you into an intense and engaging experience. It entices you to pick it up. You run your fingers across the cover. Maybe you turn to read the sales copy or maybe you don't because the cover has captured you so completely.

Although today you might just look and then swipe right.

Online (Book) Dating for Sci-Fi Writers

In truth, most book sales, whether print or e-books, take place online. We're not picking up the book with the cover that catches our eyes. We're looking at the book's online profile. We read the sales copy. If other people have picked up this book, we might read what they say. If we like what we see, we buy the book. Often that means in e-book formats, though it can be print.

If we enjoy the book we might go back to that author for a second date. A third. Maybe, if it's a great match we'll give every book by that author a chance. It all starts with that first look that catches the eye.

As writers, we know the importance of making a good first impression with our book covers. I'm working on improving my covers right now, as a part of the reboot project.

Studying the Bestselling Covers Using Amazon Lists

I tend to picture book covers from decades ago when I think about science fiction book covers. The covers that I grew up seeing in bookstores in mass market paperback formats. I also love old pulp covers.

Design has changed since then. Covers need to work as thumbnail images. Most book sales take place online.

Category Covers

shop-category1.jpg
Sample Covers Selected by Amazon for Categories

Looking at Amazon's categories, they've selected a number of titles to represent each category. Although some of the titles appear to fit the categories, others seem odd to me. I wouldn't call Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels cyberpunk, for instance. Ready Player One might be a better fit. Artemis works for Hard Science Fiction.

The sidebar lists a much longer list of categories. You can also just scroll down to the list. Ready Player One sits at the top with over 15,000 reviews (at this point).

Looking For a Match

Pick a category that seems to match your novel. I'm going with the Genetic Engineering category first for my novel Dark Matters. Here are a few of the titles at the top of that list:

These show a variety of styles. Most without a complicated scene, except for Genome. My Moreau Society series centers around detective Brock Marsden. He incorporates alien DNA into his own using Galactic technology. This gives him unique abilities. It takes place on a world with many different species of aliens, as well as standard humans. Other categories might be Colonization or Adventure.

In the Colonization category we find these sorts of covers:

The covers differ in some ways from the previous category. Persepolis Rising is the only one with a complicated cover painting more in the style of older science fiction. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has that ‘classic' look to it. Most use simple shapes that translate easily to thumbnails.

Turning to the Adventure category we find:

Familiar names on this list! Bradbury's cover hits the same red, black and white theme. Brown's covers are easily recognizable as part of the same series. Ready Player One sports the movie-branded cover. Philip K. Dick's cover resembles the Brave New World cover.

Let's compare these to titles from the Mystery category:

Author names are much larger on these books than the science fiction titles, although you see a bit of that with Atwood and Corey. Other colors show up in these covers. I could see incorporating some of the mystery elements into a design that is more clearly science fiction.

What Are Your Favorites?

Let me know in the comments which cover designs and elements you like. What should I focus on for my new covers? I need to come up with new covers for all of my reboot titles. Right now I'm focusing on science fiction. I'll do some more posts as I get further along in the process.

 

Don’t Talk to Me About Ideas

Quadrangle

Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.

Don't Go Hunting for Ideas—Target Characters Instead

Ideas don't matter. An idea isn't a story. Here's an idea:

An asteroid hits the Earth.

It's happened before and it will happen again. Arthur C. Clarke used it in the opening of his classic book Rendezvous With Rama. Other writers have created numerous other tales about impact events in books and movies. It's an old, well-used idea. Does that mean you can't use it? Of course not!

Just decide who you want to write about because it's their story that matters.

Compare Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Armageddon. Very different takes on the idea because the characters are different! The story emerges from the character.

Pick on Your Characters—It's Your Job

Characters exist somewhere, in a place. And they exist in some sort of situation. They have a life that exists before the first page of your story. That situation or problem may not (probably isn't) the main problem of the story. It could be related. Unfortunately for your character, things are about to get much worse. Almost as if there is someone deliberately making things hard for them. Oh, wait, there is! We don't read stories about characters where everything goes terrifically well all the time for the character. Things get worse for the character. They try to solve one problem and fail. That ‘try-fail' cycle repeats. Each time they do their best but things keep getting worse until they either succeed or fail for the last time.

Damon Knight describes the Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, and Emotion in his book Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction.

Story Quadrangle described by Damon Knight

I like this visualization of the concept. It neatly captures the character, situation, setting and adds an important factor—emotion into the mix. He explores each of these factors (and much more) in his book. It's well worth reading!

Where do you get your ideas?

What do you turn to for ideas? Do you agree that ideas don't matter? Let me know in the comments!

Stranger Than Fiction: Learning Story Through Practice

Typewriter

I like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I've watched it many times. It's fun, even though it shows an image of a writer as an eccentric, chain-smoking, and depressed person subject to the demands of a publisher, working in a spacious suite with marble floors. A literary author. It's an odd view of a writer, but one that reflects many of the stereotypes around writers.

“Sitting in the rain won't write books.”

Despite this, I really enjoy the characters in this story. Harold pulls me into the story. That's something that I want to do in my own work.

Learning From Story

What do you do when you enjoy a story, be it a movie or a book? Do you ask why? What did the story's writer do to pull you into the story? How did they do it? Especially when you come back to a story more than once.

We pick up story everywhere. Our whole lives we here, read, and watch stories. Our subconscious picks up on story. It filters through and comes out when we write. With focused attention, we can study works we enjoy to pick up techniques. Dean Wesley Smith covers this in his lectures on Practice.

My Plan

In coming at this reboot of my writing career, learning is key. I've spent many years writing and I continue to learn. After finishing my MLIS degree I realize that I need to focus much more on learning my craft as a fiction writer. I always want to get better. I want my writing to improve. This year is a year of reflection, planning, and rebirth.

I'm looking forward to it.

I'm writing a story each week and I plan to practice as I write those stories. So far I'm hitting each week this year (I started back in December). I create a card on my Trello board for each story which includes the deadline, target word count, and I've added a field for the technique I plan to practice.

Trello card with custom fields

This gives me an easy reminder each time I look at the card. I've added the word count and the topic using the custom fields power-up. I'll update the word count when I finish the story. And a title. When I finish the story, it goes out to a market following Heinlein's Business Rules.

How Do You Practice Writing?

What about you? What do you do to learn and improve your craft? Are there resources you recommend? Techniques that work for you?

 

Writing, Business or Hobby?

laptop showing stats

Are you an entrepreneur? Do you see your writing as a business? Or is it something else? Maybe a hobby. It's worth taking some time as you consider your goals to think about what you want to accomplish with your writing. It's up to you, there isn't one right way.

You Might Be An Entrepreneurial Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You want to make money from your writing.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You embrace marketing.
  • You plan to make writing your career.

It's okay if you struggle with some of these. In the past, I didn't embrace marketing. I didn't make any real effort to tell anyone about my books. I didn't see it as a way to connect with my potential audience. I'm constantly learning both my craft and the business of writing.

You Might Be a Hobby Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You aren't opposed to making money, but it's low on your priorities.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You look for opportunities to share your work.

We won't necessarily share all of these characteristics. Some writers might not enjoy networking. Or might have difficulty identifying coaches or mentors.

Not That Different, Are They?

Maybe you consider yourself an entrepreneur, in business, with a plan to make a living from your writing. Or you plan for your writing to provide a supplemental cash stream as a side hustle to your career. Maybe you don't think of your writing as a business. It's a form of self-expression. You write because you feel the desire or need to write and don't plan to make it your business.

It's a spectrum. Where do you fall?

Let me share a bit of my story. In middle school, I decided that I wanted to write and I planned to make a living at it. My grades turned around. My focus improved. I wrote my first novel. I wrote and submitted stories. I read Writer's Digest and tried as best I could to glean what it meant to be a professional writer. Undergraduate degree focused on writing and science, my first graduate degree, an M.A. from Seton Hill University, focused on writing popular fiction. By that time I had a supervisory position in the library.

If you'd asked, I'd have said that I was in business as a writer.

I sold a few stories. In 2009 I connected with professional writers on the Oregon Coast at a Master Class taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Two intense weeks that showed me how much I needed to learn. Finding coaches and mentors, as well as fellow writers, turned things around for me. I sold more stories and started self-publishing my work. I started to understand what it meant to be a professional writer, to be in business.

I still have much to learn. That's what this reboot is all about. Improving my craft. Improving my business skills. Taking that next step.

For most of my ‘writing career,' I've acted as if it was a hobby rather than a business. Nothing wrong with that, except I thought I was treating it as a business. At the same time, I've enjoyed a successful library career. I didn't need my writing career to pay the bills. I made decisions that I wouldn't have made if I were dependent on my writing to bring in income. Now that I'm aware of that, I can approach this reboot of my writing career with a clearer picture of my goals.

What About You?

How do you see your writing? Share in the comments!