Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Conversation with NY Times Bestselling Writer Steve Berry

OWFI-2011-039I was having a conversation with NY Times bestselling writer Steve Berry… Okay, so I’m name dropping here, but, yes I was talking with Steve Berry at the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation’s Conference in Oklahoma City last weekend of which I was the guy that organized the event. Steve said, “You have way too much about the writing business at this conference and not enough about the craft of writing.”

I said, “That’s probably my fault. I am the editor of Writing for DOLLARS! I tend to think more about the business side of writing rather than the how-tos of writing.”

After the conference, I thought about what Steve said. Did I really not have enough on the craft of writing at this conference? I took a program out and scored all of the workshops, craft or business. I had to score a few of them a little of both. It turned out that I had almost exactly the same number on both sides.

So, was I balanced?



No. I’ll tell you why.

If you will look at my last post (sorry, it’s been a few months since the last one), I listed “The Five Best Things for Marketing Your Kindle Book.” The very first one was… drum beat… a good book. I listed this first because it is absolutely, positively, solid gold, rah rah for the home team, cream of the crop, super star, home run… well… it’s the most important. So important, in fact, that if you don’t have a good book, none of the rest will make any difference. You won’t sell to anyone, except to a few who will feel ripped off and not recommend it to others -- they may even go out of their way to warn others to not buy it.

So if you are self-publishing that novel that was rejected by dozens of agents and publishing houses and it’s STILL not selling. Maybe you need to get back up and rethink your whole publishing adventure. Maybe all those criticisms of your book have some merit. Maybe you need to work some more on your writing craft and rewrite your book or junk it and write another one that is better. A really good salesman may be able to sell refrigerators to Eskimos, but it would be a lot easier to sell them snowmobiles – something they would use. You must have a good product to sustain yourself for the long haul.

In a post this week in Joe Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing , bestselling author Stephen Leather makes this same point. “When I hear ‘Indie’ writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work … I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft.”

Don’t turn down any opportunities you may have to learn more, join or form a critique group, take online classes, attend writing workshops and, of course, follow the advice of every successful writer… write every day and keep on writing. The best way to learn anything is repetition, so write, write, write.

Steve Berry, having gone through a 12-step program for recovering lawyers (okay, I made that part up), wrote five or six novels and nearly a million words before he was able to get published. He chalks this up to his taking that long to learn the craft well enough to BE published. He’s still learning, but I’d say he’s pretty dang good at it now.

Like I told Steve, I’m the editor of Writing for DOLLARS! I don’t publish articles on “how to write” so I don’t seek out good websites to learn the craft of writing. I’d love to hear in the comments if anyone knows of such places.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Five Best Things for Marketing Your Kindle Book

There are a lot of things you can do to drive people to the page on Amazon where they can buy your Kindle book, but all those efforts will be in vain if when they get there, they don’t buy. Before you start your marketing efforts, you MUST get five essential things right.
  1. A good book. What can I say? It better be a good book, or it won’t sell. Duh. You might get a few folk to buy it in the beginning, but word will soon spread through word-of-mouth and negative reviews if you have a bad book. On Kindle, the best part of your book should be the first few sentences and chapter one and two. Why? Because on Kindle, readers are able to download a sample consisting of just the first little bit of your book to sample before they buy. It better be soooo good that the reader MUST pay to read the rest.

    Example: Friends, and Other Perishables by Dale Whisman. Go download the sample of this book. You get the first three chapters. Does this make you want to pay $2.99 to read the rest? I hope so. I use Dale’s first paragraph in this book as an example of a great opening paragraph for a novel whenever I am speaking to writers.

  2. Price - It’s very important to price your book right. I’ve read where unknown authors shouldn’t price their novels more than $2.99. B-list authors, $6.99 at the most and NYT bestselling authors better keep their books under $9.99. Unless you are self-publishing your Kindle book, it may be difficult to dictate the price. There are various pricing strategies for book promotion that I won’t get into here, but for the most part, you’ll want to price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 to take advantage of the highest royalty rate from Amazon (abt 70%). Here’s a good read on the subject: How to Price eBooks for the Kindle by Stephen Windwalker. It’s only $2.99… it MUST be priced right… right?

  3. Cover art. A professional cover speaks volumes. If you are self-publishing your Kindle book, create as professional of a cover as you can. If you are incapable of doing so, pay someone to do this for you. This is one of the biggest mistakes that self-publishers do--create a book with a cover that looks like a third-grader put it together.

  4. Title. More than what you might think. The two books I mention in this post have longer titles than what I put here. Dale Whisman’s book, Friends, and Other Perishables doesn’t have a title that tells you what it is. We added to the title on the Kindle page. It is now, Friends, and Other Perishables: a Carl Jacobs Mystery. Now from the title you know it is a mystery series with a sleuth named Carl Jacobs. Much better.

    The book, How to Price eBooks for the Kindle by Stephen Windwalker is pretty clear from the title on what it is all about. But Stephen goes even farther and gives his book the longer title of: How to Price eBooks for the Kindle: A Pocket Guide for Authors and Publishers to Maximize Sales and Royalties with the New 70 Percent Royalty Option. Better! Now I REALLY know what this book is about from the title. The Amazon search engine is bound to pick up more from this longer title and more people who are looking for a particular subject will be able to find this book.

  5. Description. You must have a good hook here. Just like the first chapter of your novel or the opening of an article or short story, the synopsis or description of your book needs to entice a reader into at least downloading a sample or better yet, buying your book. This is your sales pitch, so take your best shot and close the sale. You may want to include the length of your novel (350 pages 120,000 words) so the reader knows what they’re getting for their money… a novel, not a novella. (Although a novella is fine for a Kindle book, it just needs to be priced accordingly.)
There you go. A good start on your road to a bestselling Kindle book.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Promoting Books for the Kindle

In December of 2008, I was asked by one of my authors if he could publish his novel as an ebook for the Kindle on Amazon.com. I thought, why not? “Sure go ahead.” I had looked at the new Kindle and figured it would go the way of most expensive ebook readers… down the drain. I didn’t think it was worth my time and trouble to put our books on Kindle. After all, how many people would buy a $400 device just to read ebooks?

Just for grins, I signed up on the Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform) site and went through the process of converting one of my books into Kindle format, uploaded it, made it available and then forgot about it.

Moving forward a few months to January 2010, I was perusing my bank statement and noticed a payment from Amazon that looked a little different. I receive payments from Amazon 1 to 3 times a month for various selling programs on Amazon, so I don’t usually pay a whole lot of attention, but this particular payment said, “Amazon Digital.” Huh? I logged onto my Amazon account and browsed for several minustes before I remembered where I had uploaded that ebook. I finally found the Amazon DTP site and ran the report on my sales. I had sold 15 books in 2009 and Amazon had paid me more than $150 over a year’s time. Wow! I hadn’t done any work at all. That’s when I decided that I better look a little closer at this Kindle stuff.

Amazon was suddenly projecting ebook sales would surpass paper book sales before the end of the year. Whoa! I better get busy. We immediately started a program to convert all of our titles to Kindle and any new books that we publish are now simultaneously brought out both in trade paperback and Kindle. Our publishing company isn’t the only one. Just recently, Dorchester Publishing, publisher of Leisure paperback books, announced that they would no longer be producing mass-market paperbacks, but instead be bringing their titles out in Kindle first and follow it up a few months later with a POD Trade paperback starting with their September titles.

Guess what? Promoting your books on the Internet is now more important than ever. Actually I should say, promoting your Kindle books on the Internet in now more important than ever. The Internet you say? Yes… well I think that’s where most Kindle lovers hang out… and BTW (by the way) the new Kindle is priced lower than ever. $139 for the cheapest version of the Kindle 3 and now, you don’t even need a Kindle to read Kindle books. There are Kindle apps that are free for the iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, PC, and Mac. There are literally millions of Kindle users now. The market is HUGE.

I have been researching a LOT on promoting Kindle books—what works and what doesn’t. I’ll post a series of BLOGs here over the next few weeks that deal with just Kindle book promotion. I’m not being a Kindle geek about this. We could just as easily started by talking about promoting books for Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, or the Sony Reader, or the Apple iPad, or any number of other ebook readers. The reason for Kindle? Depending on the source, anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of ebooks sold are for the Kindle. I’m going where the money is first. I’ve interviewed several bestselling authors—formally unknown authors before the Kindle—and compiled a stack of promotion ideas and information for you.

While doing all this, I, along with author Dale Whisman, have tried out many of the promotion ideas on Dale's detective novel series, The Carl Jacobs Mysteries. There are now three books in this series. The first book, Friends, and Other Perishables was originally published in hardback by a publisher whose main customers were libraries. It received some great reviews from Kirkus, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and others, but didn't sell beyond it's first print run. I republished this book in trade paperback and now in Kindle along with the next two installments of the series. I thought these books would be my best bet on trying out Kindle promotion ideas, because they have what most of the interviewed bestselling Kindle authors say is the most important things for selling a Kindle book.

  1. A good book. What can I say? It better be a good book, or it won’t sell.

  2. Price - It’s very important to price your book right.

  3. Cover art. A professional cover speaks volumes.

  4. Title. More than what you might think.

  5. Description. You got to have a good hook here.

We’ll go into these in a later post. But here are the three books in the Carl Jacobs Mystery Series and their links on Amazon Kindle:

Friends, and Other Perishables - $2.99

A Witch among Friends - $2.99

Friends on Fire - $2.99

Check ’em out… and while you’re at it, buy ’em and put ’em on your Kindle. (That’s me in my detective voice.) :-)