I’ve been publishing for several years now and had the chance to work with extremely amazing people. The stories have ranged from heartfelt successes to humorous failures. I’ve sat with million dollar earners as well as authors struggling to make a single sale. What I’ve noticed as a big difference between the two, the successful author is able to remove their ego, package it up, set it on the shelf, and shush it when necessary. I admit there is an artistry to the craft we’ve undertaken, but great art does not equate to sales and often times this ego rearing its ugly head is the author’s biggest dilemma. I’m here to drop a truth bomb, your ego, it’s got to go.
Let me amend where I’m going with this statement. This is targeted to the author looking to make a career from writing (which means making $$$.) This is not targeted to the authors who write as a passion project. However, if you hope to have your passion project seen by the world, or at least more than your family, this is very much directed toward you. I wrote for passion for many years (and still do at times) so I never want to discredit or tell an author how their journey should be directed. But herein lies the conflict, when authors, even passion project authors, want their work read by many, but refuse to see their authorship as a career. So let’s start with major mistakes.
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Bookshelves are a thing of the past.
There is this romantic image of an author casually browsing a bookstore and stumbling upon their work. They may ask to sign it, the store rewards them in free lattes and by some bit of magic, throngs of fans arrive demanding story time. Let’s be frank here, this is not the case. Angela Lansbury and Castle are fictional. The romantic image of the writer is 99.9% myth. And I’m not sure about you, but I don’t build a career on the possibility of winning the lottery (which has nearly identical odds.)
Consumers are steadily growing, but they’re not growing in the bookstore sector. We can see this with the demise of Borders and the frequent profit loss reports of Barnes & Noble (which is kicking and screaming to its grave.) If you do out the math of what is selling in bookstores, you’ll find most often it’s only the .1% that is making sales worth it. I’ve met multiple authors who have gone to bookstores and set up sales channels only to find the books do not fly on the shelves like they imagined. I write superhero novels, and I thought putting them in comic shops would be a great market plan. After countless hours, I managed to get them into several stores where almost none sell. If I did the sales and divided by the time spent, I probably made about $.10 an hour.
Remove the romance of writing from your business model. Push to where the market is strongest, and for many, this is online. This goes with the determination of selling physical books in online stores. Do not ignore them by any means, but also realize an ebook sale is often easier, faster, and selling in bulk can be more profitable in the long run. Don’t let your ego get in the way of letting go of outdated mentalities.
Book signing events
This is where I admit my ego often rears its ugly head. I’m an introvert by choice, but every now and then, I want to go out and bask in the glow of my admiring fans. I set up a book signing event and expect the line down the street, where people will let me sign their chests (it’s happened!) and kiss their babies. To my amazement I’m sitting alone gabbing with employees basking in the smell of fresh books. Poor.
We all have our vices, this one is mine. The reality of the matter is, unless you’re well-known, you’re not going to have people showing up to your signings. Or if you do, it’s people who would have bought your books without needing a hand sale.Most bookstores do not have the budget to advertise more than a social media post or a sandwich sign out front. The four hours I spend at a bookstore, is time lost doing something else, like selling books or writing. When I factor in the payout at the end of my last couple author events, I probably made nearly $.25 an hour and maybe met six people, five of who just know me and want to hang out. My ego is burning money, creating anxiety, and ultimately, disappointing me. But let’s be honest, this is where my vice will probably never let up.
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Libraries can be a time suck.
I am the son of a librarian. I support libraries. Librarians are some of the most underrated superheroes in the universe and should be sung about. With that being said, getting your book onto library shelves can be tedious, a waste of time if you over invest, and ultimately, not reward anything other than your ego. I have sent mailer cards to every library in the state (multiple states even.) My sales from this? Of over six hundred libraries, I sold three books. That didn’t cover the shipment or hours wasted sending release notices to librarians.
Do not discount libraries as part of your marketing plan, just make sure you’re investing a reasonable amount of time and money. My new strategy to help myself and still reach these golden bastions of information is to reach out to my newsletter and ask my fans to inquire about my book at their libraries. It takes a few minutes of my time, my fans do the leg work, the library sees interest in my title, and ultimately, I’m helping support libraries. This level of time commitment, it’s a smart business decision. Losing hundreds of dollars pushing your books onto librarians, not so much.
Industry reviews are not reader reviews.
So you’ve decided your ego needs a huge boost or a huge slam. You’re ready to go for one of those fabled, massive, professional recognized reviews. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, and you’re hoping they like your book and give it a positive review. You’re gambling. You’re gambling your reputation and your money. Your ego has reared its ugly head and it demands that you be recognized for your hard work. But when was the last time, a reader went to read these reviews? Sure you can add it to your Amazon product description that you received the golden star of the BigCompanyReview.
Honestly, when was the last time you, as a reader paid attention to that? I go to book pages because I either like the author and buy everything they write, or I browse and look at people reviews. I don’t care what some big company said about your book, I want to know what fans, people like me, have to say about your book. I want social proof that I won’t be let down.
These big review sites, they’re for professional ego stroking. Would I like to have BigCompanyReview tell me how much they love my work? Sure. But not for the money it requires and not at the risk of a bad review. The worst part, of the people I know who have received glowing recommendations, nearly all of them agree, the reviews have not made them sales. So then why get them? The determination for peer acceptance? Or is it our ugly friend again, the ego?
Books alone are not always viable.
This is aimed at the authors looking to make writing their full-time career. It’s a hard pill to swallow. My personal dream is to live in a remote cabin, write manuscript after manuscript and roll around in my money. Truth is, my writing alone isn’t going to cut it. I’m doing well, and reaching my personal goals, but the big goal is to be a career author. I’m finding my revenue is starting to shift from writing of books and now includes audio and boxsets. It’s still my writing, but it’s not solely books.
You may find that a combination of writing and patreon is your solution. It could be speaking engagements and writing are your thing. You as an author may write books, but that is not your only marketable skill. Diversifying your revenue streams to include a little here and there will eventually add up. I’ll keep praying that I land a movie deal, but I can’t put all my chips on a long shot.
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A business requires goals.
The idea that you are a writer is a glamorous life filled with Starbucks, late night inspirations, and falling in love with fictional people. It is also a job, and at times, your boss will be the biggest pain in the ass. But that boss is pushing your business toward a goal. These goals do not need to be large and mighty. Most often the best business plan has small steps. These small achievable goals push us toward the greater goal, no matter where you define success.
I’m going to give you a small exercise, and I think it’s important, so be a trooper and join me.
- Take a sheet of paper and at the top, write and finish the statement: My goal as an author is… Make it a single overarching goal. Perhaps look at it as your ten-year goal.
- Make three columns
- In the left column, take ten minutes and write down every thing you do as a writer. Include your writing habits, your marketing, your events. Literally try to write as many things as you can think that you’ve done in your author career journey. For me, it might be: attend cons, ams ads, facebook ads, writer conference X, attend author expo, manage NESW, boxset promotion, audio books….
- In the center column, this is where it gets a bit difficult. You need to write how each item in the left column achieves your greater goal. You need to be honest here. No inflating the purpose. Some of these you might not know if you haven’t done them yet. This is where you can ask people who have. Never attended a convention to sell books, ask veteran sellers, they’ll be honest about their goals. Never done a book signing event and not sure how it might achieve your goal, ask.
- Now here’s the part I find authors have the most difficulty doing. Tape that paper somewhere in your office. Each time you execute one of the items on the left column, write the result in the right column. If it does not achieve that goal in the center, kill it. If it does, then make notes. If it did something unexpected, it’s time to rewrite how it’s achieving your greater goal.
- Stick with it. You’ve just unknowingly created a business plan. It might be loose, it might be incomplete, but you’ve started. This works for authors seeking a career, hobbyist, and even the causal, “I do it for the love.”
I will bluntly say, all the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt, a lot of scrutiny, and raked over with your personal and business goals in mind. No person’s career is identical to another and there are numerous paths to be taken. But the one thing I stand by, and I urge people to conquer for the sake of sound decision-making to advance your goals, your ego.
In the digital age, every author needs an online presence. This can manifest in a multitude of ways from social media, to simple newsletter landing pages to full websites. While not many websites offer discoverability for an author, it does offer fans a one-stop-shop for all things related to the author. These digital business cards can also serve a multitude of other purposes such as blogs, online retail, or additional book related content. But what is most important? With nearly twenty years of web design experience and two degrees in graphic design, I decided to the website of several authors at different spots in their authoring journey.
Pros: Straight forward goal to get visitor emails. Streamlined method to see books and buy on third party websites.
Cons: Some additional bells and whistles that serve no purpose. Overkill with the pop up. Merchandise link takes visitor offsite.
Pros: Great visuals on front page. Books are easy to discover. All essential information is easy to find.
Cons: Wasted space and required scrolling. Some information that doesn’t serve business goals. Blog link takes visitor offsite.
Pros: All relevant book information is discoverable.
Cons: Ads. Links take up 1/3 of the real estate. Unnecessary information on sidebar. Links aren’t easily identifiable. Books need buy links. Serves two audiences: authors & readers.
Pros: Books are listed along with buy links.
Cons: Uses non-standard HTML.Blog link takes visitor offsite. Serves two audiences: authors & readers. Uses iframes for blog.
Pros: Gives a good personality of author. Social media is easy to find.
Cons: Cluttered navigation column. Links are “out of reach” at top. Ads. Not providing “conversion” to purchase books.
Pros: All relevant information is available. Fast options for website conversions. Book content comes before author content for increased conversion.
Cons: Each page has too many call to actions. Colors could be jazzed up for more of a website identity.
The biggest question to ask when critiquing the website is “What is the purpose?” For many people, the ego is standing in the way of their website being an effective marketing tool. What is your traffic? Where are people clicking? Quickly it becomes apparent that blogs and reviews of other books which were once the bread and butter of interactivity on a website have gone by the wayside. Using the website as a marketing tool requires a call-to-action, either converting into sales or obtaining information such as an email for continued connection to your patrons. When examining, take off the creative hat, and put on the business hat, because ultimately it is a business tool.
Like most who know about the artform, I was introduced to improv comedy from the famed TV show Who’s Line Is It Anyway? Despite many of the references going over my young head at the time it first aired, I still found myself bursting at the seams with laughter at the off-the-cuff antics of the performers.
In high school, I was fortunate enough to participate in an improv club, where we not only played games, but also took field trips to performances and studied techniques from professionals.
While I was goofing off in a cloud of gawky adolescence, I was ignorant to the fact that improv was not only teaching me how to think on my feet, but also how to tell stories. And one day it clicked that the beauty of improv, as well as the core of storytelling, is all about engagement. Whether you are performing or observing in the audience, improv is a hands-on experience, much like the worlds you build in your narrative and the relationship you have with your readers.
It was only later in adulthood that I realized I was inadvertently applying these skills in my D&D gaming sessions. It started simple enough with my character creation (and giving my GMs headaches with grotesquely detailed backstories), then evolving further when I started DMing myself. Eventually, it got to the point where I chucked the rulebooks out the window and ran completely diceless campaigns.
After making this connection, I was able to apply my knowledge to large scale writing projects and develop the eyesight to become my own content editor. (NOTE: Don’t depend entirely on your own skills for content editing if you can help it. I am saying I was able to recognize enough to save work for someone else).
These skills not only helped with the writing aspect, but also the business side of being a “Competent Author™.” Elevator pitches, networking and relationships, public speaking etc. All of this can be improved upon with a flight from the seat of the pants.
But performance, no matter how small the audience, is much easier said than done, especially if you have anxiety. With practice and a few quick, short-worded sentences tucked in your belt, you can excuse yourself from overwhelming situations:
“Hey, this was a great conversation, but I really need to be elsewhere right now.”
“Thanks for chatting! I’m headed to another appointment, but maybe we can continue later?”
Whether it’s true or not, it’s great to have some pre-fabricated exits. However, I am speaking through my personal experience, and not everyone can find this helpful.
If you want to start off with playing improv games, try it out with a few close friends just to get a feel of the mechanics. The more you practice in a safe environment, the easier it may become for you. Remember, your replies will NOT sound polished. In fact, they will be clumsy and awkward until you learn what bits of your personal conversation filter can be shut off at will.
And that’s okay! Improv is not supposed to be polished, it’s supposed to be messy and random. A lot of the most noteworthy moments can come from spouting off the first thing that comes to mind (in both good and bad contexts). Just like editing a draft, polish comes later with time and practice.
A good first-time game is called “One Word,” where participants take turns telling a story one word at a time. Put a little flair on it by adding a theme or setting to help keep everyone focused. Make a space adventure and tell the story of a first alien encounter. Perhaps an opposing kingdom is beating down the gates to your castle, what happens next?
A quick google search of “Improv Comedy Games” will bring you a slew of options, but here’s a pair of sites with great examples to get you started:
Many games can be tailored to fiction, adding genre spins to suit whichever you want to practice. Focus on setting and character creation, or even use the Question Game (make a conversation only using questions) to practice your dialogue development.
Introduce exercises in your next writing group meetings or convention mixers as an icebreaker. But please be mindful of those with social anxiety and be respectful to members not participating! Improv requires a certain level of trust, and some may not feel comfortable for whatever reason they may or may not feel like sharing. Do not take it personally if you get rejected but be sure to leave the door open for those who want to try.
And on that note, another vital skill learned through improv is the ability to read the room. Improv is not just about spouting off the first thing that comes to your head. It’s also about learning the dynamics and knowledge base of the participants as well as the audience.
For example, any games involving song titles or movies may leave some players out because they don’t partake in popular media. It is also advisable to stray away from politically charged topics in a new setting until everyone is familiar with each other. It will take some experimentation to determine everyone’s comfort levels, as well as what types of games everyone excels at. Play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Ultimately, have fun with improv whether you apply it to your writing or not! It’s a fantastic way to practice interactions and storytelling while enjoying time with others both in and out of the industry. And most importantly, don’t be too serious when playing. It is comedy, after all.
If you are a comic book writer, you’re obviously in the right place, but what about science fiction and fantasy authors? Can you have success as a vendor at Comic Cons? My experience says yes. But purchasing a table and showing up won’t be enough for a successful weekend. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Comic Con experience:
- Create an eye-catching display. You’ll have a good-sized table, so be sure to make it appealing. Put out a bowl of candy. Give away bookmarks. Set up a banner behind you.
- Interact with the crowd. I attended Cons before I was ever a vendor at one, so I love the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and I’m a fan myself. It was easy to talk to the people who stopped by. But I didn’t just wait for them to stop, I stood behind my table, smiled, and said hello to just about everyone. I complimented costumes and asked people if they were having fun. Be approachable.
- BUT, don’t annoy people with hard sell tactics. I engaged with people as they walked by. I didn’t talk about my books unless someone asked me directly.
- Have a quick, enticing pitch ready when they do ask. My nineteen-year old son was my table buddy at Boston Comic Con last summer. When he heard me stumbling over my book description to the first few interested people, he said, “Mom, that was terrible. You have got to do better.” We practiced and refined for a few minutes until I had a couple of sentences that captured the essence of the story. Think log line but with a more conversational tone.
- Use the opportunity to build your mailing list. Have a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses. I send out a weekly, very brief communication to my mailing list called “Monday Musings.” Mailing lists are a powerful tool for an author and Cons are a great place to add names. I find that because I’ve met and spoken to these people, they are less likely to unsubscribe, and often will respond to my mailings with personal notes.
- Be ready to make sales. Have a cash box with change, and make sure your credit card reader is functioning. Keep a supply of extra pens or markers easily accessible for signing your books.
- Network! Selling books isn’t the only opportunity at Cons. Make new friends. I left every Con with at least one interview booked, stacks of business cards in my bag, and a nice bump in my social media following. And ‘BarCon’ is a thing! Find out where people are congregating after hours and join the fun.
- Take care of yourself. Cons are fun, but exhausting. Have a bottle of water, some power bars and snacks with you. Wear comfortable shoes.
- To cosplay or not to cosplay? I choose not to when I’m a vendor. Generally, I break out my Rebel Alliance or Starfleet Academy t-shirts, but I don’t wear a costume. A friend of mine is a fantasy author who writes about deadly mermaids. She rocks ‘aquatic chic’ like nobody’s business at Cons. It totally works for her. But my books don’t easily lend themselves to a costume, and I don’t want my attire to be the focus of conversations. Ask yourself if a costume will help or hinder you.
- Take Monday off. If possible, give yourself some downtime after a Con. The days are long, and sometimes the nights are even longer! I’m a disaster after a weekend on my feet, and I plan an easy day when I come home.
As a sci-fi/fantasy writer, I feel right at home at Comic Cons, and I’m as excited to be there as any of the attendees. Enjoy the experience and energy, and most importantly have fun!