More on Author Marketing

There’s a wise post here by author Robison Wells (the brother of author Dan Wells, one of the co-creators of the Writing Excuses podcast and BFF of Epic Fantasy superstar Brandon Sanderson) on the subject of Author Marketing, written in response to a post here that is basically a wave of authors getting rather vitriolic about doing anything that smacks of putting effort into their marketing.  And that second post was really just the comment stream for this post, wherein a few marketing types offer a few suggestions to writers on some basic things they can be doing to market their book.

Now, I’ve written about marketing before (here and here and here).  Unlike Robison, I have not worked on marketing or branding campaigns for major national product brands, nor have I ever worked directly in a marketing capacity.  (My business career took a turn in a decidedly number-crunching direction, and so some of my work has supported marketers but was not in itself marketing.)  So all of my education on the topic has been mostly theoretical – that is to say I took a fair number of classes on marketing throughout my business education, and made it one of my areas of focus in getting my MBA.  It’s not hands-on knowledge or experience, which is perhaps the best kind, but it’s still worth something.

The thing is… what’s missing from all of these posts and counter-posts and epic-whining on the subject of author marketing and author branding and so on and so forth is… well… there are two things missing. Continue reading

Agent & Principal & Fiduciary Duty

A few weeks ago Dean Wesley Smith mentioned on his blog a clueless tweet by an author’s agent advising authors not to “argue contract law with agents/editors”, an opinion which Dean rightfully scorned.  (Full disclosure: I’ve criticized some of Dean Wesley Smith’s positions in the past.  I stand by those particular criticisms, but general criticisms do not necessarily extend to specific issues.  While I don’t wholly agree with Dean’s stance on the subject of Author’s Agents [i.e. that authors should eschew them entirely], he does have a lot to say on the topic that authors should at least consider.)

Other sites, such as Bad Agent Sydney and Michael Stackpole on his blog and the Passive Voice picked up on the same tweet, and universally condemned the untenable position suggested by the agent in question.

Once again, my MBA-Super-Powerz kicked into action, and I saw that there was a somewhat unique perspective I could add to this discussion.  The “Agency Problem” is one that is sometimes discussed in B-Schools.  (It’s probably also discussed in a substantially more thorough manner in some Law Schools.  So, of course, I warn again that I Am Not A Lawyer.)  Basically, it boils down to this: the role of an Agent is to carry out the express will of a Principal.  The Principal?  He’s the guy (or gal) in charge.  He wants or needs something done, but lacks the necessary tools and resources to do it himself.  So the Principal hires an Agent – someone who possesses the tools and resources the Principal lacks – to act on his wishes.

The Principal?  If you’re a writer, he is You. Continue reading

Alphas & Betas

Author Mary Robinette Kowal in a recent blog post linked to the blog of one of her readers.  The topic of interest?  Alpha readers

Many of you are already familiar with the term “Beta reader”.  The Alpha reader is the flip side to that coin, as Laura Christensen explains in her post, which is worth a read.  Beta readers, as you know, help authors refine their work by identifying where things aren’t working, clumsy language, and various other problems in a manuscript.  Alpha readers also help authors, but their focus is more specifically on the story, plot, and characterization.  Alpha readers are the first readers: they provide the first feedback to an author on whether a story is working.

Whenever possible, I try to use a combined Alpha/Beta approach to getting feedback on my writing.  I like a first response to help me figure out problems with my story, the story’s structure, and the characters.  And then I like to get a second sounding to help me further refine once I’ve got the structure to my liking.  I’ve read of some authors who take that even further and hand off later drafts to Gamma readers.  That’s pretty thorough, and I’m sure their manuscripts are all the better for the extra attention.  And all of this, of course, is before the story sees the eyes of an editor.

Reading the post left me feeling more than a little guilty. Continue reading

More Amazon Pricing Horror Stories

I wrote a while ago linking to a story in which Amazon had arbitrarily reset the price of an e-book published by a self-published author.

Today, I’m linking to another such story, this by established, traditionally-published author Jim Hines whose self-published book of short stories has been given the Amazon pricing treatment.

The punch-line?  Amazon has added a term to their Terms of Agreement that specifically absolves them of any liability for their own mistakes

As Jim Hines says:

I’m not telling people not to publish through Amazon; I am telling you to go in with your eyes open, and to understand that despite what the cheerleaders might suggest, Amazon is not pro-author. They’re pro-Amazon.

Let me second that sentiment.  I’m a long way from being in a position to tell anyone how to publish anything – I’m a long way from being able to publish anything I’ve written.  And I’ve consistently said that I’m glad that these new publishing options exist, insofar as they change the publishing paradigm sufficiently to tip the balance of power ever-so-slightly towards the favor of writers.

But were I in a position to self-publish something now, while I certainly wouldn’t discount the market position of Amazon, I’d make sure I put in the effort to make my book available in as many non-Amazon venues as possible, and to promote those venues, in order to try to insulate myself from getting the Amazon treatment myself.  Because to keep the balance of power tipping back toward authors, a singular publishing hegemony must be prevented.

UPDATE:

Jim Hines has updated his thoughts on his experience with Amazon here.

And as Jim points out in the link above, it looks like Amazon has been in the news in other ways lately.  Here are some links of possible interest:

Amazon Removes Kindle Versions of IPG Books

The Author’s Guild on Amazon

UPDATE 2:

Writer Beware takes on some of the recent Amazon news

Brand Management for Writers Part 2: A Brand New Adventure

A/K/A: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Brand

Last time, I talked a little about the history of branding, and about why it’s important for writers to think about.  Hopefully, I assuaged many concerns about author self-branding with this simple point: a brand is not a product.  And you, as an author, are not a product.  Rather, a brand is an image: the collection of values and emotions and thoughts that a customer associates with a product or service.  For you, as an author, your brand is your image to readers, and the collection of values, emotions, and thoughts that a reader associates with your name (or pseudonym) when they see it on the cover of a book or on the by-line of a story.  Whether you are actively cultivating a specific brand image or not, you have one – and you can’t really choose to opt out of branding.  You can only choose to disengage and let it happen on it’s own, or to actively take charge of it and direct its growth.

Either choice is legitimate, but there are dangers associated with disengaging: you may end up with a brand image that you come realize you don’t want, at which point it may be too late to change it.

Whatever choice you make – whether to engage or disengage – every blog post you write, every tweet, every public status update, every story you write, every book, every public appearance you make, how you dress and how you carry yourself in public, the visual appearance of your blog or webpage, the cover art on your books – all of it is influencing your brand image.  Some of those things are more in your control than others, but they’re all making an impact on the image your reader is developing of you.

Assuming, then, that you have chosen to actively cultivate your brand… how exactly do you do that? Continue reading

Brand Management for Writers Part 1: What is Branding?

Recently, about a month ago, fellow author and blogger T.S. Bazelli mulled over the question of author-branding.  Her post was in response to one by author Nathan Bransford on the subject, in which Nathan contended that “there’s no such thing as a brand” when it comes to authors on the internet.

It occurred to me, after reading these two posts, that it had been a long time since I talked about branding on my blog – in fact, it has been over a year.  So perhaps it might not be remiss for me to address this topic.

To start, then, let me state my credentials and qualifications on the topic.  I do not, nor have I ever worked directly in a capacity to influence the branding of any company – though I have been on the very peripherals of rebranding campaigns.  However, this past May I completed my Masters of Business Administration from one of the top business schools in the country.  As part of my course of study in my MBA, I studied Marketing, and specifically I studied Brand Management.  I took a class in Product and Brand Management specifically because I felt that the topic would prove important in my career.  I found that the topic was not intuitive for me like some topics – but I learned enough from that class to come away fairly well-equipped to discuss the generalities of brand management – and as a writer I feel equally well-equipped to discuss those generalities as they relate to a writer’s career.

So, given all that, it probably comes as no surprise that I disagree with Nathan Bransford’s central premise.  You might find it interesting, then, that in my estimation Bransford goes on to spend much of the rest of his article discussing the importance of branding – apparently without realizing that’s what he’s doing, given his central premise.  A lot of authors, especially in this social-media-saturated climate, have developed a deathly paralyzing fear of the idea of self-branding, and to such as these, Bransford’s article offers a lot of comfort.  It’s probably easier to swallow a pill about branding – if you hate the idea of branding – when you’re first told how unimportant branding is.

Bransford, for instance, starts by saying this:

To me, a brand is a cultivated fiction, it’s an image spun from a grain of truth.

But by the end, he’s saying this:

The only brand you’ve got is you.

The central conceit of Bransford’s article is based on a mistaken assumption about branding and marketing, namely, this equation:

Branding = Lies

If this is your starting point, then yes, Bransford’s article will be a breath of fresh air.  If, however, you approach branding from a different direction – if you understand that “brand = image”,  you’ll reach very different conclusions. Continue reading

Rational Numbers

One of my biggest beefs with all the alarmism and loud voices shouting about this and that and the other thing relating to the changes in the publishing industry is the lack of available, actual data.

In one corner you’ve got Joe Konrath and his henchman spreading the specious claim that you too can make a six-figure income in digital self-publishing.  (In three easy steps, I’m sure.  Step 1: Write.  Step 2: ???? Step 3: Profit.)  Their cheerleading efforts for the new world order of disintermediated publishing always bothers me because the big names on this side of the fence are largely pro writers who previously were published in the traditional model, benefited from the marketing efforts of traditional publishers, developed a platform and capitalized on that publicity, and now are making more by eschewing those publishers and going it alone.  Well yeah you’re doing fine self-pubbing.  You have a built-in audience.  Congratulations.

I mean, sure, it’s an astute business decision to dump publishers when the numbers are more favorable if you self-publish.  When you’ve got a branded author name, that’s a strategic decision you can afford to make.  But for an unpublished and undiscovered author, this a whole different ballgame.

And then along comes Amanda Hocking.  And now we’ve got living proof, tangible evidence that an unknown really can make it big.  Only wait, now that Hocking is doing fine with the digital self-pub regime, she switches sides and takes a traditional deal.  And then John Locke, he of the first digital self-pubbed author to cross the million-sales on Kindle threshold.  Last I heard he was sticking with his Kindle platform.  No traditional deal for him, no thank you.

But these are what we call statistical outliers.  We get those in the traditional publishing industry, too.  J.K. Rowling?  Stephanie Meyer?  Outliers happen.  There should be a big fat “Your Mileage May Vary” label on this bill-of-sale.  Because it will vary.  A lot.

And then you’ve got the other corner, filled mostly with traditionally published authors and their teams who are quite happy with their current deals.  They’re usually those that are making a living.  They recognize the value that traditional publishers bring to the table, and how that value has filtered to their own bottom lines.  A lot of them don’t like the new paradigm of digital self-pubbing.  It threatens their comfortable status quo, and challenges the long-standing industry prejudice against self-published work.  It’s not a stance wholly without merit, but it does seem to ignore the reality of the changes that are occurring in the industry – whether they like those changes or not.

Neither side has often been terribly keen in referring to actual, objective, and verifiable data.  But you do have a few gems: a few good souls who, like me, believe in good data.

So, all that said I’ve been keenly interested when those good souls share their data so the rest of us can see, and judge for ourselves.  In that vein, I thought I’d share some data recently made available by a digitally self-pubbed speculative fiction (sci fi, specifically) author by name of Ken McConnell on a year’s worth of his digital sales.  Link here.  (And a small update here.)

You can compare and contrast that with data like the sort provided by Tobias S. Buckell (here and here) and Jim C. Hines (here and here).

The upshot? While Ken’s figures aren’t magically phenomenal or anything, they help provide a clear view that cuts through the clutter of marketing hype.

Enjoy.

ETA (09/12/2011):

Another Digital Self-published author posts her speculative-fiction sales numbers: http://overactive.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/one-year-of-indie-publishing/

Tempest in a Teacup: Author Agents & Self-epublishing

I am, of course, an author whose “time has not yet come”, as it were.  (It remains to be seen if my time ever actually will, but I maintain hope.)  I’m not really in the industry – not yet.  (I’ve only had one professional sale.)  So in the long arc of publishing history, anything I say on the subject of the future of publishing, such as it stands now, is subject to all kinds of “I don’t really know what I’m talking about” caveats.  And as I look forward to the hopeful prospect of having a career as a writer, I worry about how what I say publicly may or may not qualify me or disqualify me for the having of that career – or in other words, I fear whether something I say now might potentially be damaging to future possible relationships with publishers, editors, or agents.  I don’t want to be a problem child or a prima donna, or appear as someone difficult to work with.  My goal is to be personable and pleasant to work with.

That said, I follow the news on the publishing industry with avid interest.  And I do have opinions about what’s happening, and the changes in the industry.  For instance, I feel that a lot of people are spouting off their opinions on what’s the “Gospel Truth” about the future of the industry when they, quite frankly, don’t really know a darned thing about what’s actually happening.  Everything is changing so fast that anybody who claims to know exactly what the future of book publishing looks like is probably selling something, and I’m very wary of these kinds of absolute pronouncements.  I take them as advice: here’s one version of how things might go down.  But as for me… I’m content to wait to see how things actually happen.  Besides, I have to focus right now on writing.  I can’t very well play any role in the industry until I have something written that’s worth reading.

All that said… I read an interesting post by Jim C. Hines today about one, shall we say, interesting development in the world of publishing.  This isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere – this change has been moving slowly for at least the last year (since I started paying attention to this stuff), and probably longer.

This change, specifically, concerns the roles that Author Agents will play in the Brave New World of Publishing, which Jim comments on here.

Reading that post lead me down a rabbit-hole of learning more about how Agents are changing their business models to survive the changes in the industry – and specifically to a very interesting Dust-up/kerfuffle.  Here are the relevant links:

I reserve comment on just what I really think of the whole situation.  At this juncture, it would be imprudent.  I will say: I don’t know any of these individuals personally.  I don’t have a horse in this race.  How can I?  I am genuinely interested in learning how this settles out.  And I will be following this going forward.  But I have my thoughts and reservation (which I’m happy to share privately, for any interested, but I doubt there will be any bites on that one).  I just think, for those of you who hadn’t seen this particular dust-up, yet, that this might be worth a read.

Additionally: be sure to check out the comments in those posts.  Some of them are at least as enlightening as the posts themselves.

Addenda: Here are some more links provided by others that I thought worthy to share (More Information = More Power):

If you’ve got some links to some places where agents and authors are talking about this issue, feel free to share them.  I’ll continue appending to this article as I have the chance to read more on the topic.

Final Note: Despite the title to this post, I really do think this is a pretty big – and important – issue.  The reason for the title has more to do with my incurable affection for alliteration that for how important I think this is.

The Writing Life & The Writer’s Living

Recently, author John Scalzi blogged a link to an article about a fantasy writer, Steph Swainston, who was putting her successful writing career on an apparently indefinite hiatus in order to pursue a career as a chemistry teacher.

I was fascinated by the Independent article that features Swainston and her decision to put writing behind her and change careers.  In it she lists a few of the troubles she faced as a writer – turning her story of success into a cautionary tale.  Some of her complaints: the inwardness of writing that leads to a lack of outside, external, non-writing experience (one funny quote: “Look at Stephen King. All his characters seem to be writers.”); the loneliness of the solitary writer’s life, the trouble interacting with fans, the book-a-year publishing machine (where authors are expected to churn out a new book every year), and the outsourcing of publicity and promotion to the writer.

Any of those might be fair complaints.  And they wouldn’t be the only ones.  One entirely not-unfair complaint I’ve oft heard: the miserly compensation.  An author cannot simply be an author in this day-and-age.  Unless you live someplace with no cost of living and are as healthy as an Undying God, the average income attainable solely from writing novels and short stories is nothing to base a household’s finances on – unless you are somewhat more successful than average.  Of course, if you’re average or lower, you’ll eventually be dropped by your publisher, more than likely – which is why Ms. Swainston had the opportunity instead to withdraw from the industry of her own volition and choosing, as she was apparently somewhat more successful than average.

What’s fascinating, of course, is the contrary version of the typical writer’s story.  It goes: yeah, there’s some stuff about being a writer that sucks.  But you do it anyway because it’s worth it.  Or: Crappy pay doesn’t bother me because I’d write even if I didn’t get paid (in the case of yours truly, presently, this is very much true, seeing as I don’t get paid). And so on.  But here is a writer who has decided, after having lived the dream, that no, it is not worth it. Continue reading

Drumroll Please…

Today, everything changes.  Well, not everything

But I cross a threshold today.  Today I am not merely a writer.  I am not merely an aspiring author.  Today I am an author – an honest-to-goodness published author.

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

Fantasy Magazine May 2011 - Issue 50

My piece, titled “Now Hiring in the Airship Lounge: Fantasy Archetypes Get Steampunked” appears today in Fantasy Magazine

I can’t even tell you how excited I am to share this news.  Obviously, I’ve been sitting on it for a while (for a lot longer than a week), but I didn’t want to say anything until I had something to show for it.  But now it’s here, and I’m letting the cat out of the bag at last.

My article, as you can guess by the title, isn’t a story: it’s nonfiction.  But as is also probably clear, it’s nonfiction of a sort that’s right up my alley, as a writer of fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s a great little piece on the relationship between character archetypes in Fantasy and Steampunk fiction.  If either genre is of interest to you, you should check it out!

Fantasy Magazine is an online magazine dedicated to fantasy fiction, in the broadest sense.  They publish stories of a variety of different fantastic types, making them available online  for free periodically throughout the month and in an ebook format available for purchase at the beginning of the month.  And, obviously, they publish fantasy-related nonfiction as well.  Of which my article is one.

And thus beginneth my reign of terror.  Today, a short article on the subject of Steampunk archetypes on Fantasy-Magazine.com… tomorrow, the world!  Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! [Insert evil steepling of fingers and evil petting of my evil dog Shasta here.] You poor fools. There’s nothing to stop me now!

Ahem.

So, I hope you go and check out Fantasy Magazine – and particularly my article and the story it is paired with (Genevieve Valentine’s “Study, for Solo Piano”).