Before you publish, Part 8 – Networking with other authors

Before you Publish - 8

In the initial post to this series, one of the items in the checklist involved networking with other authors. In a lot of ways, most of us do this through critique groups, conferences, meet-ups, and social media. Some of us don’t. I don’t participate in a critique group and haven’t in about 10 years. It’s not that I don’t want to, but there are a lot of reasons for it. Really, if I expect to be serious, none of the excuses are particularly good. In retrospect, if had I spent some time pushing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks through a critique circle, it would have been made a stronger product. The characters aren’t as good as they could be, and the plot could use a bit of patching. Not only that, there are a lot of things you can learn from other writers, even if it’s a better sense of what not to do.

The other aspect of this that I feel can be a little bewildering is trying to understand the publishing process better. I did spend a lot of time connecting with authors and researching this side, and if I were to start over, I’d do even more. Trying to connect with writers on social media can be a bit of a mixed bag. To start, my experience on Twitter and other social media platforms tend to stick to the writing side of the business, like characters, editing, motivation, and none-too little self-promotion. While this is great for that side of things, more detail and coaching is necessary for the business side. I mean, it does come up, and not infrequently, but you’ve got to ask for specifics to really get useful stuff. In my experience, authors help one another out.

The frustrating part of networking can be some groups miss the point a bit. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups where most of the time these groups wind up being: “Please give me advice on this cover/blurb,” or “I’m going to humble-brag about my sales.” When folks bring up nuts-and-bolts mechanical publishing stuff, they are often shut down with a “this is not what this group is for” or a “We’ve already covered this topic elsewhere on the group, go looking for it.” It’s a bit irritating and not particularly helpful. Not that the content or groups isn’t useful, it’s just very, very focused. When you’ve been turned off the group by thirty straight humble-brag posts, and start ignoring these groups, you’re potentially missing out on a valuable resource.

I think what I’m trying to say is: Yes, you’re going to get into groups and discussions that aren’t helping you at all. Maybe they’re even somewhat irritating, but don’t let that discourage you from connecting with other authors. One of the most valuable things I did leading up to the publication of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks was reaching out to ask authors what their experience had been and what they would recommend. If you want to know about keywords for Amazon – throw that question out to a group. If one group shuts you down, reach out to another. Frequently, someone will have a moment where they really want to pay something forward and will give you precisely the roadmap you need. This happened to me more than once, and it makes me want to reach out and help others in a meaningful way. Really, this is a community –a loose, disorganized community, but a community nevertheless. We all have to stick together and help each other out, and a lot of people feel that way.

I think my point is that before you publish –do this. Don’t just connect with fellow writers for a critique or editing, reach out for advice on all aspects from font choice to advertising tactics. Most importantly, keep in mind that other authors aren’t your audience, they’re your colleagues, and the sales pitches need to stay somewhere from minimal to 0 when reaching out. When you hit publish and begin letting folks know, they’re likely to lend you a hand getting the word out as you’ve probably done for them.

What’s been your experience networking? Leave a comment below.

Before you publish, Part 7 – Identifying your audience

Before you Publish - 7

I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t claim to be an expert. The advice and recommendations below are based on what I’ve experienced in my journey and what I would do if I were to start over – or at least do for my next book.

In the initial post to this series, I had a few questions in my checklist that involved knowing your audience. There is a whole pile of reasons this is important. Most writers are going to say ‘Well, duh.’ Really before saying that, we should make sure we fully understand why the hell we should care. I got an agent review for The Dark Queen of Darkness, where I was asked: What’s the audience for this book. My response: I don’t know. What I should have said was: young adult, appealing more toward the female end. I didn’t know/accept this until after I was crushed by his hyper-critical review. What this experience taught me was that knowing your audience is relevant no matter how you hope to be published. Now that I’ve committed to self-publishing, knowing exactly who I am trying to tell stories to is a critical piece of the puzzle.

The reason you need to know your audience is advertising. As I said in an earlier post, you’re going to be responsible right down to the most nuanced aspect of publishing. You’re going to waste money on advertising if you don’t know who to target. If you’re paying Amazon, you only need to know about your book and similar work. If you’re using Facebook, knowing sex and age-group is going to help you even further because you can target readers based on demographics as well. This might not seem like much of an advantage, but recall the whole point of marketing is reaching readers who are most likely to want to read books like yours.

From everything I’ve learned to this point, publishing is all about volume. When you make two dollars on a book, you’ve made two dollars and found one reader, but at this point, you’ve likely spent at least a few hundred dollars getting it all together, not including your time to actually write the book. To get to the break-even point, you’ve got to find hundreds of readers –Thousands if you want to move into making money. You can’t do that without effective targeting.

As I’ve been saying throughout, I’m brand new at this, and all of this is what I can see for having dipped my toe into advertising. I’ve spent a couple hundred dollars on Amazon and Facebook. The reach has been good, but the clicks poor and purchases non-existant. For every 5 or 6 thousand impressions, I’ve gotten 1 click through and 0 purchases. This tells me I’ve got a few potential problems. The first is that my blurb, cover, and hook aren’t working. The second is that nobody actually wants to read the book, the third is that I’m not actually getting this work in front of the most likely readers. Either way, it’s hard to spend that kind of money to have absolutely no return on investment.

In my experience so far, the best way a new indie author can work out their target audience is beta-readers. If you get ten or fifteen people to read your book from different backgrounds and perspectives, you’re going to start noticing patterns among the people who read and liked your work and those who didn’t. Those perspectives will give you the necessary demographic clues you need to successfully target your advertising dollars.

All that said, if you’re writing in a specific genre, it might be that you already know your audience. Romance writers, for example, seem to have reasonably well-defined categories and target audiences. To start, it’s probably the largest segment of the publishing industry with a lot of very avid readers hungry for new material. Of course, it also appears to be incredibly competitive. One of the most expensive Amazon key-words I’ve run across so far is “Paranormal Romance.” This will cost you $2.00+ per click. If you’re like me, however, and you write satire that follows in the footsteps of Christopher Moore, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett, identifying your audience is a hell of a lot harder. I’m too inexperienced to know just how to get this in front of potential readers. In any case, using your beta-readers for this kind of insight should help.

This is where reading a lot of other work or searching for other books similar to yours and reading those comes in handy. You can absolutely use other people’s work as a guide to finding your audience. If you’ve written a book similar to another, you’re going to want to try to get in the “If you like this title, you’ll probably like this title…” list in Amazon. This is super hard to do if you’re not exactly sure what your book is like or have a limited perspective. I’d hazard a guess to say most indie authors don’t have this issue and avidly read what they are writing. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who wrote a book that appeals to me but without spending a lot of time up-front reading similar books. I’m looking at Wine Bottles and Broomsticks from a slightly different perspective than most readers, and now that I’m actually trying to sell copies, I see the problem pretty clearly.

So, once again, I’m giving advice from a thoroughly inexperienced lense, but this has been my initial impression, within just a month of advertising. If I were to start over, I’d have spent a lot more time with both beta-readers and in researching similar books from several different angles. Had I done this, targeting would be going much easier, and I wouldn’t be wasting hundreds of dollars on advertising with absolutely no return on investment.

What’s your experience been with targeting your audience? Do you think Beta-readers are helpful there? Have you written something that doesn’t fit your usual patterns of reading? Leave me a comment.

Before you publish, Part 6 – Editing

Before you Publish - 6

In the checklist I developed in the initial post to this series, I said that at a bare minimum, you need to use a grammar checking software like Grammarly, or a competent friend edit your work. Ideally, you’ll hire an editor. The thing about this is that an application like Grammarly is a pretty weak solution. There are a lot of things it doesn’t do or doesn’t do well. A lot of indie writers do their own editing just fine, but having a second opinion is an excellent idea. I absolutely fall into this category. For Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I did my own editing, assisted by Grammarly. While my grammar wasn’t so bad that folks put down my book, I have received feedback about the quality. Most were generic comments that didn’t help me actually make corrections, I did get a few specific comments, which I addressed. In the end, it points to how important it is to make sure your work is well-edited. You don’t really want most of your social media posts commenting on your lack of editing.

One of the things I am struggling with is the cost of editing. A book of 270 pages is likely to cost you $700-$1000. If you break this down by hour, you’re getting a great deal.  If you look at it by return on investment, you’ve expended every dollar your book will ever make and then another $500. I am of two minds on this. For my upcoming book, The Dark Queen of Darkness, I did hire an editor. Her rates were more than $700, but it’s a longer book, and we’ve done more than a basic copy edit. I think I got a fantastic deal on this, but I know now after looking at sales, I will never make this money back. That said, I feel like this was a necessary step. It’s one of those things that makes self-publishing incredibly hard. You want to look as professional as if you’d gone through a big publishing house, but you’re going to pay for it. In the end, it means you are going to pay someone else, and never see a dollar to the positive.

Alright, this is a bit hyperbolic. I’m looking at this from the perspective of releasing a single book, not the performance of the complete works of a writer across time. Practically speaking, if I publish loads of books, do well with advertising, and find my audience, I will probably make my investment back. However, it’s going to go better if I’ve spent the time and effort to properly edit my books. Nothing is more irritating to a reader than mentally editing a book as they read it. We can all put up with a few errors, but more than a hand-full and it’s obnoxious to the point of not being something that can be read.

I think my whole point on editing is that you need to consider, as a writer, you might be too close to the work to edit it well. Consider having someone else do that for you. It might not help your bottom line, but remember, this is a long game. You’re not going to make a living right out of the gate, but if you don’t take quality control seriously, you may find readers just aren’t interested.

What has been your experience as a writer? Do you think self-editing is perfectly fine?