Archive for the 'Bob Mayer post' Category
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
I’ll be winding down blogging here at Genreality at the end of this month. I’ve just got too much writing to do to be able to keep up this, my own blog and guest blogging at Digital Book World. I’ve most certainly appreciated the opportunity.
I’m growing rather frustrated with these ‘amazing’ announcements from various publishers and gurus about their innovations they’ve implemented that they imply are on the cutting edge. Tor announcing dropping DRM was treated liked a genius move when any indie author could have told them over a year ago to let go of it. But the wheels of publishing move slowly.
The next was Open Road Media proudly announcing that they think backlist isn’t really backlist any more given the digital revolution. I agree. And said so over a year ago:
While I am very big on looking to the future, there is one area where I think publishing should look to the past. Traditional publishers are sitting on top of a gold mine that they have traditionally never exploited except when an author broke out: backlist.
The reason for this was limited shelf space. For many years I wondered why no traditional publisher bought my latest manuscript, not only for the manuscript, but with the thought of breaking that book out and then acquiring my extensive backlist. I always felt like I was sitting on a gold mine, but not a single publisher saw it that way—in fact they viewed it quite the opposite way. I understand the problem was shelf space, but now that’s no longer an issue. Even though shelf space was an issue, it always felt like publishers belonged in gambler’s anonymous rather than in business. They were always betting on throwing one hundred new books against the wall, hoping one won the lottery. There was little sense of nurturing an author’s career or looking to the future with a long-term commitment. The reason for this is no one can really predict what will be the next Hunger Games. But this is a rather haphazard way to run a business when publishers do control the rights to a considerable amount of backlist. Remember, it isn’t backlist if someone hasn’t read it and Digital is a complete game changer in that regard.
I was very fortunate to hit the sweet spot in publishing. When my print sales had dropped so low, but my eBook sales had not taken off, I was able to exercise my rights clauses in my contracts to get my books back (I’d already gotten the rights to most of them years earlier, but there were still some key ones I needed, like my Area 51 series). I even did a blog where I offered Random House reverse royalties on Area 51 if they just let me publish them. No response. When I proposed a promotional program for Area 51 to coincide with the release of Super 8, a blockbuster about Area 51, my editor told me they could barely promote their frontlist, never mind their backlist.
Backlist is gold.
So. Yeah. And since then, here’s the really cool thing. Amazon wants to republish my Area 51 series under their 47North imprint on 11 December while releasing a new title: Area 51 Nightstalkers. As one editor told me: we want to prove that we can take books NY threw away and break them out.
Actually, already kind of did that on my own, as I earn more in one week with Area 51 eBook sales than Random House could manage in 6 months.
I just wish that people would recognize that many of the “original” ideas that publishers are coming up with were already done by indie authors a while ago. I recognize it’s hard to change a large organization or business model. I pinned on the crossed arrows of Special Forces when it finally became a recognized branch of the Army while attending the Infantry Office Advanced Course at Ft. Benning. Think that went over well? Special Operations were the bastard step-children of the military for decades, and now they’re the darlings.
I submit that the author-entrepreneurs like Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre and Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath who are being ignored right now are going to be the leading voices in publishing in a few years, while the old dinosaurs slowly sink into the tar pits.
And, yeah, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel is still in Nook First and selling quite well. And, oh yeah, I suggested the Nook First program to Barnes and Noble last year in August and the very first book they did it with, The Jefferson Allegiance, hit #2 nationally over Labor Day weekend. I’m now working with PubIt, Amazon, Audible, Kobo etc. (Hey, Overdrive respond!) on numerous innovative marketing programs. What I love about these companies is their openness to authors and their enthusiasm for what they are doing.
Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How low? There’s always free. But one thing I’ve learned as a consultant is that many people don’t respect things they get for free. However, the ability to go free for five days has many authors flocking to Kindle Select.
Does it make a difference? Here’s our experience: We were selling about 10 copies of the first book in our Atlantis series a day at $2.99. Then we dropped the price to .99 just a couple of days ago. Then we started selling over 200 copies a day and it hit the top 20 in Science Fiction on Amazon.
That’s a big difference.
It’s not just the pricing. We’re doing other things to promote the book, particularly being active on social media, but there’s no doubt the pricing had the largest role.
When you drop pricing below $2.99, you drop from 70% royalty to 35% royalty, which kind of sucks, but even then, I’m not making that much less than I make on a sale of a mass market paperback book.
I don’t believe all eBooks should be .99 and it’s more a promotional thing than anything. Lisa Gardner hit #1 with a .99 eBook in the NY Times. There are five more books in the Atlantis series and they’re all between $2.99 and $4.99.
Our goal, which we’re achieving is to get more readers.
In the long run though, I’m slowly increasing prices across the board. I think we’ve had a sort of race to the bottom and readers have grown leery of the “good deals” in terms of quality.
There is no doubt there are still plenty of readers who are trolling for free and .99, but I believe we seeing a reverse, where readers are focusing on quality over price, especially since we’re talking a few dollars: less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Yesterday at Book Expo America I talked with a representative from Barnes and Noble and they’re leery of following the ‘free’ route for eBooks because they also see it as a potential race to the bottom. In the beginning Kindle Select worked well, but in just six months we’ve seen a flattening out with the effect when the book comes back off free. It used to rise quickly onto a bestseller list; now the rise isn’t so quick or high. The market is becoming saturated.
I believe we will see further changes as publishers and authors learn and adapt.
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
My first book came out in 1991. Over 50 books later I’m still kicking and fighting as an author. My very first review ever, on my first book, in the NY Times was overall positive but said: “Fans of thrillers will love it, but characters right out of action comics.” My editor thought that was great. I don’t think the last part was very positive. And it was accurate.
Then along came Amazon. Originally, in days of yore, when men were men, and the sheep ran scared, anyone could post a review on Amazon anonymously. You should have seen the bloodletting. And, of course, I read them. At least now you have to buy something (not necessarily the book you’re reviewing) to have the opportunity to review.
An author can get 99 “attaboys” but one “aw-shit” would sink me into a funk. Same with emails from readers. Honestly, 99% of readers who email are really nice. But every once in a while you get the “Your book sucked so much I burned it.” Same effect.
I don’t mind constructive criticism. You should see the mss critique letter I got from Elizabeth George. She sent it like this: an open letter saying a bunch of stuff, then a sealed envelope. At the bottom of the letter she said ‘open the letter if you really want to know’. I opened it. There was blood on the walls, but damn if that book isn’t pulling together solidly.
So I learned. A lot.
Also, reviews can help you find problems with formatting, editing, etc. No matter how much we try, things do slip through the cracks.
Now, I don’t read Amazon reviews other than to check to see if anyone has problems with formatting of eBooks, because that can happen and we immediately want to get in contact with that reader if we can and correct any problems, so we’ll post a comment on the review letting them know that.
With emails, when I open one and it starts getting nasty I do two things now: I instantly hit delete and I smile. Because, as I teach in Write It Forward, anger is an indicator. Of something for the person who is angry. So they must have really gotten into the book to get so angry. I’d actually rather have an angry reader than an apathetic reader. I read Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile recently and it really bothered me a lot. I initially said I didn’t like it. Then I had it pointed out to me why I didn’t like it and it was because it said something to me that was bothersome to hear. Great book.
Here’s what I’ve learned I can’t do with reviews: respond. Bad, bad idea. You can’t change someone’s mind. Let it go. Responding can start something that the writer can only lose.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Did you ever think you’d pay 5 bucks for a cup of coffee?
At a conference I heard an editor use the comparison of instant coffee versus brewed coffee when discussing eBooks and print books. She pointed out that when instant coffee first appeared everyone thought brewed coffee was dead. Brewed coffee is still around. Her point: print won’t die because eBooks are here. I agree to an extent, but print is going to be hurting, especially hardcovers and mass market. But I also take it a step further. Not only is brewed coffee still here, Starbucks appeared. They made buying a cup of coffee an ‘experience’. Really, is a cup of coffee at Starbucks that much better than McDonald’s? But you can’t get that extra-mocha, whatever, whatever, whatever (I get decaf, black, I’m boring) at McDonalds. And it’s like, way cool, to be able to stand there and say all those words, like I really know what it means and really like this stuff. I’m too intimidated. We used to chew the instant coffee from our LRRP meals when I was in Special Forces while we were deployed to stay awake. I think I might order some grounds next time I’m at a Starbucks.
I digress. So Starbucks blossomed across the country, like zombies with aprons. You can’t cross a street without hitting one. But then the economy, like, collapsed. Bummer. And people have had to cut back. And, well, $5 for a cup of coffee, started to seem like, of all things, an extravagance. So Starbucks began hurting (join the club).
Let’s talk bookstores. First there was Amazon. Mail order book retailer. There were grumbles when it first appeared on the horizon back in the days. It took a slice of the market. B&N also opened an on-line store. Overall, though, the brick and mortar stores and the on-line stores co-existed, much like, well, the human race and the Borg. Then Amazon started selling used books, which kind of sucked for publishers and authors to an extent. You can argue whether used books sales take royalties from authors or find them new readers.
But then came eBooks. A murmur in the distance as long ago as January 2010. Now it’s a roar. Borders is gone. B&N is trying different. Indies, first besieged by the chains, then the on-line retailers, are now attacked on all fronts, although in some places they are making a come-back and I submit those that are succeeding are following what Starbucks did.
Back to Starbucks. Some smart people over there, right? So what do they have planned to combat their eroding sales? They’ve come up with an approach, which has a single concept at its core: go local.
It seems counter-intuitive for a national chain to go local. But what is becoming apparent in retail is that niche is the future. For Starbucks, the décor of each store, rather than being cookie-cutter same, is going to feature local artists and furniture. They’re going to cater to, well, the local people. They’re reinventing the ‘experience’.
I submit where goes Starbucks, there might be a path for bookstores to survive. Become a gathering place for like-minded people. But the real thing is: Niche is the future. Not only will indies have to adapt to their area, but for chains like B&N to survive, they must specialize and localize. One size does not fit all. All books do not fit all.
The Espresso machine is a lifeline. Books will be printed in the stores. So anyone can walk in with a thumb drive and print out their Great American Novel and give it to mom and pop and sell three copies to friends who really like them and put up with them. But it’s a money maker. Rack local authors. People who would come in and hang out in the store every so often and talk to readers and interact. Rack books about the area. So if someone wants to know about kayaking in Puget Sound, because they happen to be in a bookstore in a town on the edge of Puget Sound, they can find a book about it. We have to break away from the single buyer in NY determining what goes in every bookstore around the country (plus B&N just laid off some of its National buyers, which makes you have to wonder how exactly they’re going to decide what and how many of certain books to buy). We have to get back to local buyers, who have the pulse of the area, who know the readers, determining what goes on the shelves. Make apps where you can sell eBooks by local authors and about the local area. Mirror your physical store on-line.
The future of publishing with eBooks and bookstores, is the key to the future of understanding that the retail outlets for books has fundamentally changed this year. When the outlet changes, the business has to change. And that means us, publishers and authors.
As writers, you really need to stay on top of the retail end. Because if you do decide to go it yourself, how are you going to actually sell your book to the most important person? The reader?
Something to think long and hard about is where could you place your book that isn’t traditional? Jack Canfield did this and Chicken Soup became a mega-success. He put books in stores that hadn’t racked books. Your protagonist is a fly fisherman? Perhaps contact those stores and see if they will rack your book. Your book is about the Civil War? Every major National Park reference the Civil War has a gift store.
We have to be innovative for the future. Where do your readers go? That’s where your book must go.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
I wrote my first draft of The Novel Writer’s Toolkit in 1994 after four books published. It was all of 11 pages long. That was the extent of what I consciously knew about writing a novel. In 2009, I wrote my first draft of Warrior Writer, a book designed to teach writers how to succeed as authors after my frustration over the lack of education for writers and all my experiences—it evolved into Write It Forward. I still have not had a single response from an editor or agent showing me what their formal training program is for an author they sign or contract with. In today’s fast moving marketplace, writers can’t afford to learn like I did—the hard way.
Over the years, I rewrote the Toolkit every six months, adding all I was learning about writing. The Toolkit ended up being 80,000 words long and was published by Writer’s Digest in 2001. It earned out in less than six months and had a great run.
Last year I updated both books extensively, partly because I’ve grown as a writer and now an independent author. But also because today’s publishing environment has changed and with that change has come the ability to update books to meet the changing needs of today’s successful writers. The Novel Writers Toolkit now focuses 100% on the craft of writing. I removed the business section because that belongs in the other book, formerly Warrior Writer, which I renamed Write It Forward: From Writer To Successful Author.
One key thing I added in the Toolkit was a section on Conflict, especially the Conflict Box. I put in all I’ve learned in the past several years. I have to say I believe I’ve learned more about writing in the past two years than in my first twenty.
In the Toolkit, I teach how to answer key questions about your book including:
Can you state what your book is about in one sentence?
Do you clearly have conflict lock between protagonist and antagonist?
Do you know where your ‘camera’ is when you write each scene? i.e. Point of View? Do you know when you’ve done a cut?
Do you know all your characters’ primary motivations, their motivation leveles, and their blind spot?
Write It Forward is the sum of what I’ve learned in 20 years of traditional publishing and two years as an indie author and publisher. I made many mistakes over the years and I wrote this book to keep others from making the same mistakes. I’ve included where I believe publishing is now and where it’s going. I also focus on helping writers sort out their own path to Oz, given that each of us are starting from a different place and our vision of Oz is unique to each of us.
For example, can you answer these questions, which Write It Forward poses as exercises and then teaches you how to answer:
What is my strategic goal as a writer? Where do you want to be in five years?
I’ll do anything to succeed as a writer, except don’t ask me to do . . . . ?
My greatest fear as a writer is?
How high is your ‘imposter syndrome’ as a writer?
Are you in command of your writing career or are you counting on an agent or editor?
Do you know where you stand on the three P’s: Platform, product and promotion?
Both books focus on building the complete writer: one who masters the craft of writing into being an artist, and one who develops their work into being a career writer.
Reference the Novel Writers Toolkit
“A book to inspire, instruct and challenge the writer in everyone.”
#1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Susan Wiggs
“An invaluable resource for beginning and seasoned writers alike. Don’t miss out.”
#1 NY Times Best-Selling Author Terry Brooks
“Something for every writer, from neophyte to old hand. My hat is off to Bob.” Best-Selling Myster Writer Elizabeth George
Reference Write It Forward
“I have always loved how your programs delved deeply into the psychological models you need to develop characters. No you are using that to develop people.” Co-Creator of the Chicken Soup Books Jack Canfield
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Let’s start with the negative: 95% of blogs are pretty much a waste of time professionally. If someone is blogging just to get some stuff out and doesn’t care about the results, that’s fine. Or if it’s part of your social life, not your professional life, then one can do whatever they want. But if you’re blogging as part of your platform, it’s a different story.
When I look at someone’s blog as a writer, if they haven’t posted in a week, I figure it’s not important to them, so therefore it’s not important. I’ve found that after three days, traffic to my blog drops considerably. That’s why Jen Talty and I alternate, with each of us posting once a week; myself in Tuesday and Jen on Friday. It’s a large commitment of time and energy but it’s part of our platform at Write It Forward.
Jenny Crusie and I used a blog very efficiently several years ago when we, in essence, wrote a book using the He Wrote/She Wrote format. I think this is a good idea if you have a nonfiction book you want to write. Write it on your blog. But I do not recommend posting your fiction on your blog.
One of the greatest uses of blogging is to go to OTHER people’s blogs and leave cogent comments. This is a good way of becoming known to those bloggers as we all read our own comments. I’ve been invited to present at major industry events because I went to someone’s blog and left comments that made sense and supported a platform they found intriguing.
I do a couple of group blogs, like this one. I also blog on the third Sunday of the month at WG2E. I think doing this extends my reach.
To be honest, there are times I feel like I’m running out of things to say. I’ve examined publishing and writing extensively over the years. In fact, many of my blogs end up in my books, such as The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author. About half that book were blogs that I pulled, put in order, and rewrote.
I believe the key to a good blog is knowing what your platform is going to be before you start blogging. How do you want to come off to people? Why would they come back to blog? Are you informing AND entertaining?
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Listening to the editor/agent panel at Desert Dreams and I’m going to shoot from the hip with reactions to what is said.
Let’s see we’ve got a Harlequin editor; agent; editor; agent; St. Martins editor; agent; agent; agent;
Everyone is looking for a “unique voice” it seems. Which makes me wonder at the value of the one-sentence pitch we all preach. Jenny Crusie is a great writer, but she couldn’t one-minute pitch her books at all. You have to READ her writing to get it.
One agent has made the point that she only reads hard copy about ten times in her introduction. Okay. Got it. And she doesn’t have a web site. Okay, Well then. The year is 2012. Digital publishing is here. My own agent has a web site via the agency, but it’s not much. But when you have a stable full of #1 NY Times bestsellers, you don’t have to worry about it. But if you, well. And I don’t have to worry about her reading this, right?
I do almost feel such a panel is an anachronism, but publishing is still selling tons of books and isn’t going away any time soon. One thing I always find interesting is how agents and editors rarely attend workshops. I know they often have to do one on ones, but they do have some free time, but it seems like they don’t feel they have anything to learn from authors. Several of them said they were scrambling to stay on top of things, but one of my pet peeves about publishing is that the people who know the most about digital publishing are the top selling indie authors like Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, etc. Yet their phones aren’t ringing off the hooks from publisher and agents wanting to learn. Ah well. Blind leading the blind.
First question to the panel is answer: Please don’t send me another manuscript about:
That’s a poor question. It’s negative. Also, I’m sure there are writers in the audience who have sweated for a year and written exactly what someone is saying they don’t want and can’t sell.
And please send me a manuscript about: Good writing, yada, yada.
The thing I’m picking up is the same attitude of we have to figure we can sell this. But the reality is few people know what will sell until it sells. What I love about being indie is the person I have to sell to is THE READER! Not an agent. Not the agent selling to an editor. The editor selling to the publisher. The sales forces selling to the outlets, yada yada, I told you about the bisque, didn’t I?
One agent just said she wants her clients to come up with 6 ideas before writing, so they can find the one that has breakout potential. That’s a smart idea.
What advantage does a publisher have over going on your own in digital:
HQ: We’re the biggest. Well, okay. And? What are your royalty rates? We’ve been around over 60 years. And? How is that an advantage to an author? She’s boasting of having Nora Roberts’ first book. Which means the contract locks rights in forever and sucks for the author.
SMP editor: Downpricing books and cannibilize print sales. Print sales is still a much bigger market. Which is why Amanda Hocking moved to SMP. Okay.
Agent: I have to educate myself on electronic books. Honest. Need to know more about marketing.
There’s an undercurrent of anxiety—someone mentioned the saying: May you live in interesting times. Indeed.
We’re all still trying to figure everything out. Another honest agent. Had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Argo Novus just to look at their contract. Interesting. What is there to hide? The royalty rate I suppose. I sense that’s a lazy way out for agents to get their authors “Self-pubbed”. Drop Cool Gus a line. He’ll listen and send you his fact sheet on what he does. But we’re only taking on four more authors this year so it’s tight.
Why use an agent/editor: marketing and discoverability. HQ and SMP have marketing departments. Yes, but the reality is they put 95% of their money and effort into 5% of their titles.
So the panel is getting a little defensive now.
What print publishers do is try to get you longevity. Huh? How is print a long tail? If your book didn’t work, we work with you to help figure it out. Huh? I’ve never had a publisher do that. Guess I was incredibly unlucky.
Yes, they do put tens of thousands of dollars of co-op money behind some authors. The 95/5 rule.
One agent is boasting of suddenly getting eBook royalties from books long out of print. Which means she negotiated sucky contracts for her authors since they don’t have the rights back.
One agent is talking about how she had a book she loved but no one could figure out where to shelve it so they didn’t buy. That’s a big problem. That’s the person she needs to help self-publish.
Agent: e-royalty rates are changing. There’s a false dichotomy. The wild success in self-publishing vs the failure in trad publishing. There is no one publishing story. True. It’s as hard to succeed in self-publishing as it is in trad publishing. You just have more control in indie world.
One editor who is an author says negotiate your eBook rate. Now she’s talking about her own book, which kind of isn’t appropriate for this panel. And going on about the dog on her cover.
SMP and HQ won’t buy print without e-rights. 25% of net receipts. Pretty poor. My experience with SMP is I sell more eBooks in a day than they manage to sell in six months with three NY Times bestselling titles. So I’m not sure where the marketing muscle everyone is talking is at. Again 95% for 5%. And if you’re the 5%, you’re probably like Scott Turow and making speeches about the curators and defending the status quo. When the status quo is good for you, of course defend it.
This panel has kind of gone off the rails a little. Interesting how personalities come out in such a short time.
What do you want to hear in your pitch: First answer was: I don’t want to hear . . .
That is often the tone that is so negative that comes out. What we don’t want. Another I don’t want to hear . . .
Overall, everyone was pretty honest and up front. And, of course, they are defending their turf, which is what we all do. The reality is that success, no matter what the path, is extraordinarily hard in publishing. The good news, with digital opportunities, the author has the opportunity they never had before.