Tag Archives: marketing

A blueprint for becoming a well-paid, respected fiction author

No, really.

You might not like some parts of it, but it would work. It would also, if I were a participant, make me less money–just in case one is tempted to imagine that this is a purely self-promotional notion.

It also involves marketing. Yes, marketing is icky and you hate it. I get it. It is also what separates the moneymaking writer, even if mediocre, from the impoverished writer even if superb. You either embrace marketing and decide to do it, or you pay to work rather than being paid to work.

If you’re still interested, you at least asked, “What marketing would that be?” That’s a start.

First: learn to write and tell a story. Do this by writing a short story, say 5K words, and hiring a competent editor for at least one developmental edit. Might need more than one. The logic here is that if you hire the right person, you basically get an intensive writing class. You would also get that if you wrote novellas or novels, the difference being that this will achieve it cheaper and faster. You will overcome all the tyro mistakes: stop using italics as substitutes for good writing, learn differences between dialogue and narrative, get over your adverbs and ellipses and em dashes.

Once your short story doesn’t suck, publish it on Amazon as a free giveaway. Yes. Free. No, I am not joking, and no, I am not nuts. If you can’t make it free, charge the minimum, which I think is $0.99. The idea here is to build up a following. Your first five short stories should be free. Keep writing them. Continue to engage editing support as needed, but your editor will cost you far less because s/he will have less mechanical stuff to do and will have moved you on to more advanced thinking as you shape your storytelling abilities.

You want reviews and people interested in more from you. You are building up your promotional base while making sure that you don’t charge people much for your earlier, less polished efforts. You are getting reviews, one hopes, feedback as to what readers like and dislike. You can compare public opinion to your editor’s impressions, ask for guidance relative to them. That’s part of what we do, evaluate review comments for validity or bogusness (bogosity?).

After you’ve got five up there that you are willing to make free as often as possible, start charging $0.99 for those going forward. Your base will take chances on you, because most people do not recognize $0.99 as actual money. It’s about the price of their coke with fast food. They will gladly pay that for a lunch read by an author they know they like. Word will spread. You will start to earn. You might not yet be breaking even, but neither will you just be pouring money down a sinkhole.

What you are doing here is creating a pool of passive income and marketing that keeps working for you after you have already paid for it, like rent-free billboards with your name on them. By using short stories, you are doing this as cheaply as possible. Editing and proofreading cost less. They do add up over the course of about twenty-five short stories, but each is a spend-once-benefit-longtime cost. If you think you are pretty badass, you can always try releasing a story without editing guidance and see how it’s received.

Yeah. I just told you it was okay to try skipping hiring an editor. If you have started to believe that you are special, and you want to test your theory, just try it without one and see how the reviews are. Do I think you should do this? Fundamentally, no; but if you are starting to ask yourself whether you want to keep spending that money, this is the only way you will obtain an answer you can believe. If it doesn’t seem to matter, then at least you’ll make informed choices. If it gets lousy reviews and people wonder what the hell went wrong with you, then you’ll have a metric for what good the editor was doing you.

Once you’ve got a couple dozen shorts out there that people can use for discoverability, come up with a novella. Maybe it’s based upon situations and characters that the readers liked; by now you have ample feedback on that. Have a developmental edit on the novella, because the issues facing longer work differ from shorter work, and you now need to learn these. It will be far, far less expensive than if you’d just busted out a debut novel and had to go back and forth three times while your editor taught you to get rid of passive voice and write decent dialogue.

If you stall out, and think that you have “writer’s block,” you’re incorrect because there is no such thing. If you are tired of writing, tell yourself the truth. If you just need a break, tell yourself the truth. If you can’t figure out what to write, tell yourself the truth. Deep down, you either do or do not want to keep doing this. If you don’t want to, stop; it was worth a try. If you want to continue, write something, anything, every day. Write naughty limericks, journal, send letters to the newspaper editor, do a blog, even write about how old this is getting. Doesn’t matter. People who want to and have the time and means to write are writing; people who do not want to write are not. Right now I want to write this blog post. Never, ever externalize your desire to write and assign it to the completely invented, non-recognized, self-sabotaging syndrome/disorder/dysfunction that goes by W.B.

So don’t give your novella away free, but don’t make it too spendy. Most of your readers, being readers, can do a little thumbnail math. If it’s 35K, and you charge a buck for short stories averaging about 5K, and you hit them up for $4.99 for it, that won’t seem unfair. Its audience will overlap with that of your short stories, but not completely; you may want to have occasional giveaway weekends if Amazon will let you. Depends how it’s doing. The idea is to leverage your past following to break into a different market segment.

If you want to do full-length novels, make a similar step up from novellas as you did from stort stories.

While you are doing all of this, build a marketing plan. Yes. The first conversation I have with most prospective clients goes this way:

“So. Is it a vanity book or a commercial book?”

“Oh, it’s definitely commercial. Absolutely. It is many adverbs commercial.”

“Great. What’s your marketing plan?”

“What do you mean, ‘marketing plan’?”

“That’s what makes it commercial. A ms without a marketing plan is a vanity project–and that’s not a putdown. Vanity projects are just fine and I am happy to help with them. I run off half my prospective customers just by being honest with them about how this world really works. I would rather do that than take money under deceptive pretenses. You can surely find someone desperate enough to resort to deceptive flattery, but that’s not me. So: you don’t have a marketing plan, and right now it’s a vanity project. But if you develop a marketing plan, you will have a method in mind to get your money back and then some. Either way, that’s my first guidance to you: examine your goals and be honest with yourself about them.”

Any whom that approach sends fleeing for an editor who “believes in my work” or otherwise makes them feel warm and fuzzy, did the right thing. If they aren’t comfortable with blunt honesty even when it acts against its own financial interests, they aren’t the clients I want. If I’m going to make less money out of principle, I damn sure want to like my work and feel good about my clients.

At any rate, if you spent that year or two developing and executing and refining a marketing plan, you should have significant residual income coming in from the shorts. With a little luck, some of them will have broken even or better, and their income streams might help you fund editing, covers, etc. for future work.

Now and then it might make sense for you to put out a new short story even if you’ve mostly gone to longer works. Might even make it a new freebie, depending on your marketing plan. There is even the outside, bizarre, fantastic possibility you might have made your peace with marketing by now, even if it is the same sort of peace you have made with your toothbrush: “I either do this, or I have really bad dental days.” Believe me, that’s about as far as I have gotten with it.

So. Easy? No. Workable? More than ever before. Requires time and money? Yes, somewhat, but if I could imagine a quicker and cheaper method, I would be recommending that.

Domaining

Is it not strange how we get into ruts where we fail to step back and look at what is possible?

I own a .22 rifle that brought about such a situation. On top of it is an enormous (for the rifle in question) scope. I never had lens covers for the scope and at one point in life, I’m embarrassed to say, just put some packing tape over the end. The objective end, that is. Since it was kept upright and dust settles vertically, I didn’t think I needed one for the eyepiece.

(There followed the expected variety of catcalls, mocks, scoffs, and disses. All well deserved.)

It only took me thirty years of the Internet, and however many years of online shopping, to realize I could easily just go out and buy a couple of the damn things. I could remove the fossilized tape stickum with a goo remover and some gentle swabbing. In the meantime, all this time, I tolerated a pain in the butt and fundamentally incorrect handling just because I never stepped back to look at the possibilities. I didn’t see a reasonable solution in 1990, therefore I had put it out of mind–even though I have embraced much of the modern technological world in most aspects of my life.

Thus with domain names. Let us pause, first, to laugh a little at this term that has entrenched an extra meaning into our English vocabulary. Any time I type “my domain,” I feel like I’m cosplaying Tarzan. When you come here, please practice social distancing and everyone pick his or her own tree limb; are we good? But yeah, that’s the term we use for this business of website naming. When I registered jkkelley.org, I needed something that fit and was brief, but also took account of the multiple things I do. These days, I mostly get hired to edit. Thus, jkkelleyeditor.org.

It only took nine years of blogness for it to occur to me that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to add a second domain without hosing the first one. I never stepped back to pause and consider.

If you have bookmarks, no need to change anything. I have no plans ever to get rid of the old one.

What I learned from marketing at Orycon 41

This wasn’t easy for me on a couple of levels. I have a rough history with Orycon (Portland’s annual science fiction convention), for starters: at my first one, I had to make my way past a horrible train wreck, then got miserably ill by Saturday evening. At the second, I knew nearly no one and just never connected; I went home early. This past was not primed to fill me with optimism.

The hard part here was that I attended not for pleasure, but to market my editing work at a station in the dealer room. This put me “out there” in ways that always bring me fundamental discomfort, for I am not good at waving a banner and saying “Come hire me! I’m so great!” Truth told, I neither excel at nor like marketing. Most of the time, this blog and the FB page are as far as I go. People I like; public presentation, not so much.

Along came an old friend, Randy, who was also a client. I don’t know whether or not Randy likes marketing, but he is better and more energetic at it than I am. Through some persuasion, he convinced me to let him help me make a better marketing effort.

As he does with my editorial guidance, I did about 95% of what he said I must (or would have said, had I not realized the need myself, such as having a brochure and some form of banner). The only serious line I drew was the banner content, and I don’t think that hurt me much.

Of course, I caught a cold three days beforehand, so I got to go through this at less than my best. Had it not been for Randy sharing the booth (marketing his gaming system while mainly supporting me and providing feedback), it’s a fair bet I’d have failed in some way. It’s true: if you involve someone else before whom you are unwilling to embarrass yourself by jaking, it can help you go through with an uncomfortable thing.

Not that any discomfort stemmed from anything but my own inner Jed Clampett, of course. Orycon is well run by helpful volunteers, attracts a pleasant extended community of socially nonconforming and generally bright consumers of specific media, and the hotel even had enough parking. If the Max train went to Jantzen Beach it would have been perfect, but we never get everything.

What did I learn from this?

  1. In terms of splash, I had the worst display in the dealer room. It wasn’t even close. I had a white banner proclaiming “Editing Services,” business cards, a brochure holder, and little else. (By my standards, I’d built a miniature Disneyland.) It did not offend me when people pointed out that mine was the dullest. Did I, deep down, feel a certain perverse sense of victory and self-honesty? Damn right. Do I think that the all go / no show balance hurt me? No. I do need a better way to hang the banner, because we sort of McGuyvered it with binder clips.
  2. What would have hurt was a bad attitude. Many of the dealers would just as soon not be there, and it shows. The drag there is that it’s self-fulfilling: they’re not happy, they radiate it, and soon they’re not happy because they aren’t selling anything because they give off a vibe of “wish I were elsewhere.” But didn’t I? Not in the same way. I’d made a commitment to respect a good friend’s time (Randy drove from Seattle, three hours and change, just to do this) and exercise full effort, and I was going to do this like I meant it. The most important potential customer is the one standing before you.
  3. My booth (okay, my folding table with a navy blue cloth and my marketing stuff on it) may have set new ugliness standards, but my one intellectual contribution worked very well: chairs. I had the con set us up with four chairs, so I could put two on the aisle side facing each other sideways. No one else offered anywhere to sit. Not only could potential clients have a seat and talk about their work and needs, but this let us be good neighbors. One lady had dealt with some unacceptable fan group harassment and seemed to need a safe and friendly space for a few moments. A few others just asked whether they could rest sore knees or hips for a bit; sure, that’s why we put them there. There’s a lot of mobility impairment at cons. Randy said I did a good job of engagement, but the only thing he considered inspired was the chairs. I would do that again even if I had to bring my own.
  4. A dealer booth is a great place to people-watch. Orycon situated us between a publisher and a corset vendor, across from a couple of authors. Cons have good people-watching; if you’ve ever wondered just how many different shapes the human breast can assume when guided and shaped (or liberated in a specific direction) by clothing, a science fiction convention is your learning ground. Orycon is very restrictive with regard to anything that even looks like a weapon, or the displays would be much better.

It was as good an experience as I can have spending twenty-one hours meeting the semi-public over the course of three days. And to those of you who met me there and are now reading the blog for the first time, thrice welcome and thank you for visiting my humble but friendly little Orycon presence.

No one who refuses to read this book should ask me for book marketing tips any more

The book in question is the autobiography of Bill Veeck, Veeck as in Wreck.

Clients ask me for marketing tips all the time. Of course, a cynic might think: “If he were that good at marketing, he’d probably be writing and pushing his own books.” Most authors hate marketing and think it’s icky; they just want to write, publish, and let their work rise on its merits. Well, it is icky. It’s like picking up after your dog icky. However, if you do not pick up after your dog, your back yard is not a fun place.

Other than how to approach Amazon reviewers, there is not a lot of useful stuff I can tell people about marketing books. The cynic above? S/he is quite correct about me.

The author who refuses to embrace marketing, and who insists that it’s a commercial rather than a vanity book, should be writing fantasy. That’s because that stance is indicative of a very active and fertile imagination, an ability to suspend disbelief in the face of obvious evidence. This should enable him or her to come up with some amazing alternate realities.

I believe that all projects should begin with a fundamental mindset. Winston Churchill knew it. His six-volume WWII memoirs, which are some of my favorite reading, began with a Moral of the Work:

“In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: goodwill.”

One may debate the moral, its applicability to the telling of history, or whether Churchill lived up to it in life. He did establish a mindset, and one supposes it guided him. Thus it is with writing, or the marketing of writing. If the mindset toward marketing is that it’s icky, I see a high probability that the result will reflect the mindset. That means the author doesn’t sell very many books, and perhaps even takes a net loss after all the initial expenses are considered.

So; mindset before all. And that’s why authors seeking marketing tips must read Veeck’s book.

  • It is about growing up around and operating baseball teams.
  • It is about breaking attendance records, even with lousy teams.
  • It is about one’s approach to the public.
  • It is about just enough chicanery.
  • It is about an unconventional mentality.
  • It is about marketing without fear, shame, or guilt.
  • It is about how to treat those with whom one works.
  • It is about having fun, and plenty of laughter, while practicing all of the above.

If authors let some healthy portion of Veeck’s rollicking, fun-loving, generous, brass-balled, loyalty-building, establishment-defying, disability-defying, fiscally savvy, opportunistic mindset sink into their marketing approach, there is further point in discussing strategies. They will have a mindset, a guiding attitude, and will thus be able to carry out those strategies without feeling like they are picking up dog turds.

If they decline to read it, or read it and decide that marketing is still icky and they just want to write, I will be delighted to serve as their editor and will not bother them any more about reading Veeck’s book. However, they should know that I’ve already given them my best marketing advice, from my limited storehouse of same, and that I may not have much else of use to tell them about how to get people to buy books.


 

*I can’t finish a discussion of a book written with Ed Linn without a shoutout to his efforts as co-author. I have read several sports books written ‘with Ed Linn.’ Mr. Linn has passed on in recent years, but he happens to be one of my best examples of voice. All of Veeck’s books with Mr. Linn sound consistently Veecky. Others, with other autobiographists, sound like those persons. When I edit multiple POV first person fiction, I remind myself that those voices must, must, must differ, must match to the developed characters, and must further the speaker’s development.