Archive for 'Bob Mayer'

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
eBook Pricing: How Low Can You Go and Does It Make a Difference?

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
How Should Authors Handle Book Reviews?

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 16th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Questions for writers regarding craft and career

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
Blogging for Writers

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
Reactions to the editor/agent panel at Desert Dreams

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.


Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Have a Career Plan as a Writer

A while ago I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice. We’d taught together for seven straight years at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. She also lives one island south of me. She emailed me back within 20 minutes of my query with a very detailed explanation of the route she followed for success.

First, Susan said she studied successful authors in her genre.  She looked for the patterns.

Second, what she came up with was a plan to write three books. Since they were romances, she couldn’t use the same protagonist in every book; so she looked at a unifying concept. She decided on a fictional town. Suzanne Brockman uses a Navy SEAL team. This gives reader continuity. I’m using West Point as my unifying concept in my current Duty, Honor, Country series.

Third, you need a unifying theme. In romance, well, it’s usually some form of romance. I’m using the theme of loyalty versus honor. I’m applying that theme on two levels: personal for the characters; and also in the big picture because my focus is on the Civil War.

Fourth, the goal is then to sell the heck out of the first book and get a commitment from the publisher to push the numbers on the three books. Now that is out of your control. Both Susan and I have experienced publishers that didn’t push a series.

I think though, if you approach agents and publishers with a plan, you have a much better success of the plan working than not having a plan.

In fact, I was on an agent panel at Pacific Northwest Writers (no idea why I was on panel—guess because my agent was sitting next to me). And I mentioned the idea of having a plan. After the panel was over, one of the agents told me in all the years he’d been agenting, no one had ever approached him with a plan. He said he’d love it if writers had one.

I think that is the Catch-22 that a lot of agents and editors can’t get past, they would love a new author to have a plan, but they don’t have the time or energy to teach you how to develop one. So we’re still working on the throw 100 new books against the wall and hope 1 sticks paradigm. I really think we need to get smarter.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Reflections on the Value of Bestseller Lists vs. The Long Tail (and free eBooks)

Many people in the industry are very focused on bestseller lists.  And with the rise of the digital book,  I think that’s not a very smart move.  Because bestseller lists don’t exactly equal ka-ching.

I remember sitting at lunch years ago with several authors at the Maui Writers Conference.  We were discussing the business and I started talking about dollars and every author just about spit their iced tea out.  They said NO writer talks about actual dollars.  But they were also very happy to finally let the beast out of the closet and talk about contracts and real dollars.  Because it was their livelihood and for their entire career they had been working in the dark trying to figure out what they were worth, what their books were worth, what their time was worth and what their writing was worth.  But it was all hidden under a bushel.

All I read lately are blogs about indie and trad numbers and how many of each hit whatever bestseller lists and how USA Today is better than NY Times because it sort of tracks real sales, but there’s not much transparency.

There are quite a few indie and trad authors making a very nice living and they never hit the bestseller lists.  To them, I say, take satisfaction in that you get to do what you love and don’t worry about the ‘validation’ of lists that are vague at best.

Because not a single bestseller list focuses on earnings.  And that is a fatal business flaw as any MBA, or person with a business sense, will tell you.  Especially with the tidal wave of eBooks.  Let’s walk through a practical application of this.

A certain author sells 1 million eBooks.  (Stephen King just passed 1 million btw) Woohoo!  At .99.  Well, okay.  But it’s a million.  I grant it’s a brilliant marketing move.  For the first person who did it.  For the rest, sorry, it’s not that unique any more.  A million eBooks on Amazon at .99, where each earns a little over .29.  Ultimately around $297,000.  Not chump change.  Except the guy in the next cubicle who sells 100,000 eBooks at $4.99, one tenth of that all important number, earns $349,300.  Huh?  Yet which one does the publishing world focus on?  The units sold.  However, which, ultimately, is the more important number?  You can’t pay employees with units sold.  You pay them with earnings.

Bad business.  Because at the end of the day we have to pay the rent/mortgage, the utilities and our business expenses.  And our employees.  Or else, you know, we have to like, fire them.

Look at Publishers Lunch, which announces deals.  We know agents and publishers never give exact figures to PW.  So it labels them with terms:  good, nice, yada yada.  Except how many books?  What rights?  What royalty rates?  Which exact end from the low end to high end does the deal actually hit?  Ask anyone.  Big difference if they get the top number or the bottom number.

Let’s not even get into how antiquated the NY Times list is.  It’s always been skewed. It’s two weeks late by the way!  Does the Times own a computer? Connected to the Internet?  They’ve been reporting the list the same way now for decades.  And it’s based on reports from stores, not actual sales.  One time I had the #4 bestselling fiction mass market title on USA Today and didn’t even hit the Times extended list.  Then I had a book on the Times list that never touched USA Today.  So which reality are they operating in?

I know that we’re not going to shift to reporting actual dollar figures.  But I think as indie authors we need to be aware that believing in numbers with such a high degree of variance once you get into the details as our measuring stick has inherent problems.  I took some courses in psychology on statistics and how they can be skewed.

I know, it’s all we have. The key to success in digital publishing is not the immediate success and the bestseller list.  It’s the long tail, a broad base of titles, and consistent sales over the years.  Where bestseller lists really count is on Amazon if you get on that first page for your genre.  That’s called discoverability.

All I’m saying is let’s be aware that ‘success’ is different for each of us and there are many roads to Oz and even Oz is a different place for each of us.

And, btw, here are some free eBooks in Kindle this week for those interested:  Aztec by Colin Falconer, Rekindled by Jen Talty and Atlantis Devil’s Sea by moi. Also this week, one of my books is being featured on Nook First:  Psychic Warrior: Project Aura.  I based the book on an actual program (once classified) we ran in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).