I had to share this. Had to.
Gotta share this: Smashwords.
Smashwords’ founder, Mark Coker, featured me … sort of … in the Smashwords blog!
I wanted so badly to come back from RWA and confirm for you that yes, it was all about the shoes.
But no. Incredibly, it was about far more than shoes. And if I show you some of the shoes I’m talking about, you will understand how awesome this conference truly must have been:
Pretty freaking awesome.
I am still reeling from sensory overload, so forgive me if I’m a bit incoherent. I learned so much that I’m still struggling to process it all. Two of the biggest takeaways: (1) Publishing is changing – radically, and rapidly. (2) Storytelling is not.
It’s a great time to be a writer. It’s not such a great time to be a publisher. Nobody wants publishers to die, but they are thrashing and gasping like fish in a basket. It’s gruesome to behold. Kinda tugs at the old heartstrings, too. They are still the best at what they do, and everybody loves what they do. But they are no longer essential. They are “extra.” They are the frosting on your career’s cake, but they are no longer the cake.
So while we are all chewing on that mouthful, let me tell you what else I learned.
Blogging: I’m doing it wrong. Very few people care what happened at the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference. Those who care, care intensely, but never mind that. I simply must stop jabbering on and on about writerly stuff. :gasp!: :sob!: This is going to be a hard habit to break, so only time will tell how far I get with this one-!
Facebook: I’m doing it wrong. Okay, this really hurts. I thought I knew Facebook. But my knowledge extends only to being a person, not being a page. I gotta tackle that page from a new angle. (In my spare time.) This could get ugly. I bet it takes me a while to hit my stride, because I have no clue how to accomplish this — but it sounds like a really good idea: “Make your page a fun place to hang out.” Ohhhh-kaaaay.
I learned a lot of other stuff too, but it’s all writerly stuff. So I can feel my workshop leaders tugging on my sleeve and whispering, “Wrap it up! Quick!”
I’d better take their advice. Wouldn’t want to spend all that time & money at RWA for nothing.
One last thought: Every time I plan to go to this conference, I fret about the expense. I think, “Do I really want to go?? How badly do I want to go? Is it really worth all that @#^%$!! money?”
So far, when I have decided to go, I have never regretted it. Never. It’s just SO much more than shoes.
I am really looking forward to the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim. I mean, I am REALLY looking forward to it. Is that a Bad Sign? Should I temper my excitement by reminding myself of, say, that Mexican Riviera cruise — which I was confident would be a dream vacation … until Day Two, when the Norovirus hit?
Maybe there’s no such thing as a jinx, but I am typing this with my fingers crossed. Just in case. Because if I manage not to jinx it, this RWA conference is going to be fantastic. FANTASTIC! There; I’ve said it.
I’ve attended quite a few, over the years, and they have all been great. But I’ve never been in quite this position before: making money from my books without being beholden to a publisher. I have no editor. I have no agent. I am not up for any awards. In other words, I am feeling no performance anxiety of any kind. I have no meetings set up. No conversations to anticipate, fret about, and mentally rehearse. No acceptance speech to write. No “graceful loser” smile to practice. No tricky etiquette questions to mull (“Which of us is supposed to pay for this lunch? After all, she invited me – but I chose the restaurant. And she’s my editor/agent/reviewer/chapter president …so does that tip the balance? And if so, in which direction?”). For the first time in my career, I will be free as the proverbial bird.
And, as if my enviable position above the fray weren’t blissful enough, I also have a book contract with NAL (or Signet, or Intermix, or whatever it is calling itself these days) — a bona fide subsidiary of Penguin Putnam. An actual “Big Six” New York publisher. Ha! Yes, I am hugging myself. Forgive me. It’s just too, too perfect. Because the contract is just for an e-release of one of my old titles — so it’s really no big deal, right? But a contract is a contract is a contract — so I am officially a Contracted Author. With a book coming out in August. Which means that, unlike most of the other self-pubbing authors, I get to attend the Signet/Berkley/NAL party on Friday night.
If you’ve never been to an RWA conference, you are going to have to trust me on this. Friday night is the night when all the publishing houses host parties for their authors. And you do not want to be left in the lobby with the wannabes, pressing your nose against the glass and watching as all the published authors are swept off in limos to glamorous destinations that you can only dream of. (Okay, there aren’t always limos and it’s not usually that thrilling of a destination — in fact, often the parties are just receptions held on the conference hotel premises — but that doesn’t matter; being in with the in crowd feels great, and being left out hurts. That’s just human.)
So. I go to the conference needing nothing from anyone, expecting nothing, able to enjoy every minute to the full without the usual high-adrenaline plague of nerves. And yet I get to attend the party. How perfect is this?!
Too perfect. Excuse me while I go throw some salt over my left shoulder.
I am not the first to travel this road, but all of us crowding the self-pub trail today are certainly among the first. It’s exciting – and confusing – because none of us really knows what to expect. Some of us will reach Oregon, and others will die of cholera while crossing the plains. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And some who reach Oregon will hate it and wish they’d never left Ohio — but I imagine those folks will be few.
Being a pioneer involves, as it always has, a certain amount of risk. And, at least initially, ridicule. There are always people who will warn you not to make the attempt, and promise that you’ll be sorry if you do this crazy thing. I hung back for years, thinking I was better off where I was, hoping that a miracle would happen and Signet would reissue, say, The Fortune Hunter. Because wasn’t I better off hoping for that, however unlikely it was, rather than asking for my rights back and eliminating that delicious possibility forever?
Well. I may have hung back for a while, but I finally made the leap. Early this month, I received the rights back to my entire backlist — with the exception of my first book, The Nobody, which Signet plans to re-release as an e-book in July of 2012. This development derailed my progress on the Wicked Cool sequel (temporarily, I trust!) while I feverishly cleaned and formatted and spruced up my old manuscripts. Now they’re out, for better or worse … my self-published darlings, the books of my heart.
And now is when I wish somebody had built a paved road and put up a few signs. Instead, there’s a dusty, faintly-marked trail with an awful lot of fellow travelers crowding around on it, arguing about which route is best. Alas, not enough writers have gone before us to show us a sure-fire way to get where we want to go. It’s a safe bet that some of us are going to miss our timing and get snowed in at Donner Pass, and some of us are going to wander into Death Valley while seeking a shortcut. At this point, you honestly can’t tell which of us at Point A is among the group that will reach Point B.
Do this, do that, do some other thing … no matter what you hear advocated, there is always someone out there warning you that it’s the exact wrong way to go. “Get out on social media and hype your books.” “No, no, that just irritates people!” “Offer some of your books for free.” “No, no, that completely backfires — people don’t value what they can get for free!” And so on.
I hope the dust settles soon, because it’s awfully hard to see.
Someday, I am going to learn all about blogging. (Should have done that before I began, eh?) I know there are ways to link my blog to other people’s blogs, but I’m not only unsure how to do this, I suspect that there is some sort of protocol — a secret handshake or other ritual — required before one takes such a step. So, since I don’t know how else to do it, I’m going to paste links to a couple of blogs I have been featured on lately:
Romance Novel News (they interviewed me about self-publishing, but if you’re already reading this blog you’re probably heartily sick of the subject) and Heroes & Heartbreakers, who posted an absolutely lovely article about my work called “The Return of Diane Farr.”
Okay, I’m diving back into my writing cave now. For all of you who were expecting a sequel to Wicked Cool prior to Halloween, all I can say is … believe me, I’m disappointed too. Augh!!
I went through this blog tonight, assigning “categories” to my posts. (Because, let’s face it, there’s always some super-urgent chore like that demanding my attention and preventing me from writing.) And I came across one I’d titled “The Truth About E-Books.”
I couldn’t assign a category to it because I couldn’t remember what it said. So I read it.
And that was my “Wow. Just … wow.” moment.
My contention, in that blog post, was that e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists. That print publishing is the way to go, if you can. Which is why e-books are for amateurs and hobbyists — you know, the ones who can’t get published by a “real” publisher.
It’s hard to believe I wrote that less than a year ago.
How quickly things change in this business!
This whole self-pubbing adventure is pretty amazing. I think I may have mentioned that my expectations were low at the start, but since my expectations were honestly low — as opposed to, you know, trying to fake myself out when actually my hopes were high — I have been honestly, and pleasantly, surprised.
For those of you keeping score at home, I have given up fretting about Amazon reviews. For one thing, Wicked Cool has now garnered so many five-star reviews that I can afford to breathe easily. For another, it is ridiculous to stew over things one can’t control.
This is an excellent adage, by the way, and I wish I applied it universally. I don’t, however. I still compulsively check my sales numbers, and mentally set “goals” that must rank among the stupidest goals ever set by any human being, anywhere. Because there is nothing, NOTHING, nothing whatsoever, that I can do to move those sales numbers! So why am I muttering to myself, “If I can just sell X before midnight …” As if I were a sales clerk working on commission. The sales clerk, one assumes, is surrounded by customers with whom s/he can actually interact, and might, therefore, be able to influence whether something is purchased or not. An author, sitting alone in her pajamas, staring at a computer screen? Not so much. You’re fairly helpless in that situation. No, get real, you’re completely helpless. And yet you keep thinking, “*&$!@, only X in the past hour! I’ll never make it!” and mentally reviewing what time it is in New York or Denver or Honolulu, trying to decide whether it’s reasonable to expect anybody to buy teen paranormal fiction at 2:16 a.m.
Somebody please tell me this is normal.
It has come to my attention that savvy consumers view 5-star reviews on Amazon with suspicion. Not reviews of vacuum cleaners or cameras, mind you. But book reviews? Nowadays, a 5-star review of a book you’ve never heard of is (I am told) assumed to be a plant.
In a world where anyone can publish and anyone can review, it’s expected that authors are, naturally, bludgeoning their friends and relations into posting rave reviews on Amazon. And they do! The abuse of Amazon’s customer review system by hyperactive, anxious authors, desperate to compete in an ocean of content where most books sink without a ripple, is so well-known that the trick is no longer effective. (Is it fair to call it a “trick”-? Aw, heck. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call it a trick.)
The problem is, sometimes a 5-star review of a book you have otherwise never heard of is genuine. The reader not only read the book, but loved it. How is a would-be book buyer to discern the difference between puffery and honest enthusiasm?
Do you, Gentle Reader, have a system of weighing customer reviews that winnows the wheat from the chaff? If you do, please share it with us.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that WICKED COOL received a 1-star review last week. This is always painful to an author — but it doesn’t, you know, ruin your life or anything. Your voice is not going to connect with everyone. Some people can’t stand Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare sucks. I don’t care who you are, or how well you write, some readers are not going to “get” you. That’s just the way it is in this business. I am grateful that my 5-star reviews outnumber my 1-star reviews, but this was certainly not the first 1-star review I have received. Just the first for this book.
What gave me pause this time around was that a Facebook friend clued me in to The Awful Truth: ALL my other reviews were 5-star reviews. So when the 1-star review popped up, in a lot of people’s minds it instantly negated all seven of the other reviews. (And, apparently, the professionals quoted under “Editorial Reviews.”) The experienced Amazon consumer would, based on the picture currently presented, assume that all seven of the 5-star reviews were posted by my mother. And the 1-star review was the only “honest” review.
Wow. What a catastrophe.
I am hereby going on the record and coming clean about those eight WICKED COOL reviews. I am personally acquainted with one, but only one, of the people who posted a 5-star review. Three more, however, are very kind and interested internet friends. So four of the really good reviews you can, perhaps, dismiss. (If you must.) The other three? I have no idea who those people are.
I also have no idea who the 1-star reviewer is, unfortunately.
I’ll tell you why I care: 9 times out of 10, I choose the books I buy based on customer reviews. So the idea that people are going to dismiss ALL the good reviews of WICKED COOL and only believe the bad is turning me pale.
I have never understood how books find readers.
If you are a reader, you probably pictured it the other way round: readers finding books. But as an author, I’m here to tell you, books find readers. They reach out to you with their attention-grabbing cover art, their carefully-chosen titles, even (eventually) the author’s name — once the author has sold enough books. In the world of print publishing, sometimes the author’s name is, itself, chosen to attract you. Julia Quinn, for example, invented her pen name to place her books on the shelf next to Amanda Quick, an already-established author writing in her sub-genre. It worked so well that newer authors now vie for the honor of being shelved next to Julia Quinn. And so on.
It helped, of course, that Julia Quinn’s books were terrific. But I digress.
More thought, preparation and money goes into crafting the look and feel of a book than readers can possibly imagine. Cover artists are routinely paid more than authors. Marketing people argue and brainstorm for hours, I am told, figuring out how to ensure that this particular book reaches its audience — the people who, all unwittingly, are destined to enjoy it most. However true the adage may be that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you do. We all do. And it is an important part of a publisher’s job to design and market each book in such a way that it efficiently telegraphs its essence at a glance. How do they do this?
I don’t know.
Publishers do not hawk books the same way other businesses hawk toothpaste, beer, or automobiles. Because you, Gentle Reader, would not buy a book based on an advertisement you saw on TV or in a magazine. You buy the books your friends urge you to read, or — better yet — you wander the aisles of a bookstore or library until some lucky book catches your eye and your interest. You pause. Pick it up. Turn it over and read the back cover copy (over which many people have sweated, unseen and unsung). Based on what you see there, perhaps you open the book and glance at the first paragraph. And then you either return the book to the shelf or … and this is the moment for which so many, from the author to the clerk behind the counter, have labored and longed … kismet. You fall in love.
It’s a mysterious, and oddly intimate, process. We have a relationship with the books we read. Reading them requires a commitment — first of money, then of time, an even more precious commodity. Buying a book is a very big deal.
So now we come to the brave new world of e-publishing. No wonder traditional publishers are flummoxed. And authors even more so! In the old days — you know, two or three years ago — all an author had to do was write a book and hand it over, then get out of the way. Now the last thing they want you to do is get out of the way. Quite the contrary. Your publisher now wants you to help market the book. Probably because (I suspect) they no longer know how. The old tricks don’t work in e-publishing. There are no shelves of carefully-grouped, alphabetized authors labeled ROMANCE, WESTERNS, CLASSICS, GENL FICTION. There is a website.
Oh, dear. Better have the author pitch in.
Market the book! What a disaster. I am among the majority of authors, I think, who not only have no clue how to market a book, but actually shudder at the prospect. My circle of family and friends is numerically limited, after all. If each and every one of them bought a copy — or even two — I’d still have no hope of hitting the NYT list. So what’s the point of badgering them? For heaven’s sake, let me leave them alone. And if you don’t mean for me to hawk the darn thing to my friends and family, what on earth are you asking me to do? Go door to door? Rent a sound truck? Hand out flyers in airports? And if I did, why would total strangers listen or care??
No, indeed, the entire prospect is repulsive. Please do not ask me to market my books. I’d rather not sell any books at all. In fact, I’m going to hide under my desk and refuse to answer the phone. Somebody else go out and market my books, please. Not me.
But a funny thing happened while I was cowering beneath the desk. People started buying Wicked Cool.
Quick recap: Cerridwen Press released Wicked Cool in May of last year as an e-book. The rights reverted to me at the end of December, and I brought it out through CreateSpace in a nice, glossy print-on-demand version. I forget what Cerridwen Press charged, but it was more than I wished they would. And CreateSpace has rules to guarantee that they don’t lose money when they print and ship books (and pay the author a royalty). So, basically, my friends and family (and a few others, I admit) have been shelling out $8 to $12 for Wicked Cool.
Along about March of this year, I released a Kindle version — you know, in the spirit of “why not?” It was absurdly easy. Since Amazon and CreateSpace are linked, I was able to use the cover art from the print edition. The most difficult part of the experience was deciding what to charge. A very kind friend on Facebook urged me to sell it for the lowest possible price. The lowest price Amazon would let me set was 99 cents.
I thought long and hard about that. Did I really want to sell a book — a work that took years of my life — for 99 cents?! My friend assured me that yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. (During this conversation, I believe the name “Amanda Hocking” was bandied about.) Apparently 99 cents is what people nowadays expect to pay for things. And (my friend explained) it is such a low price that readers who have never heard of you will roll the dice and buy your book. Because, after all, it’s only 99 cents. That’s throwaway money.
My objections to this ridiculously-low price were twofold. One was the obvious — it hurt my pride to sell one of my darlings for throwaway money. The other was, all the people I really cared about on Planet Earth who were going to buy my book had already bought it, and they had paid a heckuva lot more than 99 cents. So I cringed at the thought of insulting them by suddenly offering Wicked Cool to the masses for so much less than they had paid.
My compromise? I decided to wait until the anniversary of the book’s initial release. Once the book has been out for a year (I reasoned), it wouldn’t be so bad to drop the price. Since I’m working on a sequel, I thought it might even be good marketing strategy. Not that I actually have a marketing strategy, or know beans about marketing, but hey, any strategy is better than none. Maybe.
So there the book sat: Available, but unheralded. It was March. I let it lie there, quietly, in the corner of Amazon’s Kindle store, thinking it could gather dust while I waited for May. Not that I had a plan for May, really, apart from finally confessing to my near and dear that I had done this. Maybe adding it to my email signature. Announcing it to a few folks on Facebook. That’s about the extent of my marketing muscle.
The first week it was available, six people bought it. I figured the few people I had mentioned it to had sought it out. Although six seemed a little high.
The next week, three more copies were sold. Then four, then three again, then six. By this time, I felt puzzled. Gratified, you know, but puzzled. How on earth were these people finding it?? I supposed there must be a coterie of people who noodle around Amazon the way people used to noodle around bookstores. I found this amusing, but heartening. Sure, this particular bookstore had over ten million books on the shelves, but with so many customers, apparently even my humble offering was sparking a certain amount of interest. I pictured my sales like background radiation on a Geiger counter: sput. Sput-sput. Sput.
When six people bought it the next week, it still seemed random to me — it didn’t occur to me that my numbers had, you know, suddenly doubled. But the next week, fifteen copies sold. And that caught my attention. Fifteen?! I was flabbergasted. This must be how Amanda Hocking felt, I realized, dazed. There was no earthly reason why fifteen people should have suddenly purchased my book.
Oh, wait a minute. Now it was May, the anniversary month I’d been waiting for. Time to “launch.” (Insert hollow laughter.) So I mentioned it on Facebook. That’s all I’ve done so far; no Twitter campaign, no blogathon (whatever that is), no change to my email signature yet — just a single Facebook mention. And I think — though I can’t be sure — that two people from Facebook bought it. Just two.
Then I checked my sales figures for this week. They have quadrupled. Oh, wait — I just checked them again. More than quadrupled. People are buying Wicked Cool at an unsustainable rate, surely, but good heavens — I am going to receive actual royalties from this thing.
Is it a fluke? Or worse, a joke? Has Amazon made an accounting error? What on earth is going on?? I rushed to Google, as I always do when I need answers. Nope, no new reviews. No discernible buzz. No overnight outpouring on any Googleable message boards.
So what should you expect when you e-pub? I thought I knew the answer to that one: Nothing. I still think it’s best to expect nothing. Anything you get is gravy — that’s Rule No. 1 when writing a book, and always has been. They used to tell you to write for the love of it, expecting nothing, because there was no guarantee that it would get published. Now you have the power to guarantee that much all by yourself. It’s the sales you can’t control.
How do books find readers? How do readers find books? I still don’t know. I may never know. It remains as mysterious, and as fascinating, as True Love. People manage to find books the way they manage to find marriage partners. We stumble through life toward Destiny, until Destiny overtakes us. We wander through the bookstore, or click idly through Amazon, or whatever the heck we do, and then … suddenly … ahh. There it is. Our next read.
It’s just weird.
Note: Wicked Cool sold thousands of copies that summer and made me a believer. I apologize to anyone I called an “amateur” in The Truth About E-books.