Tag Archives: marketing

The Hard-Boiled Book Tour: The First 30 Days

one. word. at. a. time.

one. word. at. a. time.

Almost 30 days into the release of “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1.” A good time to update the scorecard. Success? Failure? Progress? Depends on the size of those rose-colored glasses.

The paperback came out on August 28. The ebook came out on September 11. I’ve been featured in four online interviews with another due tomorrow. I’m scheduled for a big-deal radio interview on October 5. I’ve held two book readings, got another tonight, and appeared at two reading series. You could say I’ve been busy.

For all that, about a month in and I’ve sold nearly 30 books. Does that number mean anything to you? Sounds small, looking at it bare and all. But I’m impressed. That’s no egotistical claim, and I’ll tell you why.

There’s no damn reason my book should sell at all. Who ever heard of me or my humble volume? Sure, I’ve got my social media friends and followers approaching 100 folks. Toss in another 100 from my series subscription list, allow for overlap, and that’s one humble group. Now put that up against Amazon where there’s 300,000 mystery and suspense titles listed. That’s one heck of a field to compete in. All together, the site offers more than 8 million titles. Put any kind of dent in that and you’re getting somewhere.

So I’ve moved 30 books in the first month, in my own, little way. Through Facebook and Twitter and blogs. No paid advertising. No media coverage. No published reviews. No viral campaigns or celebrity scandals to draw on.

I began writing the stories in this collection in August 2012. It’s been plenty of work getting from there to here. I’ve covered my shoestring costs of publishing. And I’ve got enough yarns, ready to polish and proof, for another 2–3 volumes. I’ve just gotten started. Sure.

 

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There’s No Success Like Failure

"The future ain't what it used to be."

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Sophistry and card tricks. Monday morning quarterbacks and backseat drivers. Data mining, info-graphics, ten-best lists. Rankings and reports and royalties and reviews and readings. The stuff of success?

Am I above the all-American dream? In by nine, out by five and make your first million before the first pot brews? Of course not. I’m a yankee doodle dandy as much as the next fella. But as soon as notions of success-measuring cliches enter the mix, I’m overwhelmed. Besides, a million isn’t cracked up to be what it used to be cracked up to be.

I wouldn’t turn down commercial success. Not on your life. But I can’t measure myself by it. That’s not why I do what I do. I haven’t made any New York list or bestseller list or even some Hoboken list. I’ve still got to do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to create. I’ve got to produce. I’ve got to get it out and put it on paper or turn it into pixels or some damn thing.

Sure, I’ll promote myself. I’ll pitch. I’ll sell. But there’s boundaries. There’s some reasonless gut level line drawn in that invisible sand I’ll never cross. My writing isn’t based on market analysis or Pew polls or the latest Amazon stats.

I get an idea, see? I imagine an image or hear a voice. An artistic question pops into my little head that I’ve got to try to answer. It ferments and bubbles and boils over. It spills through my fingers and onto the electronic canvas.

Spinning on the so-called creative process leaves me with dizzy dissertations such as this with no business prospects in sight. Left brain-right brain? I sometimes wonder if they’re connected.

I meant this post to hold forth on measuring success, and here I am slinging in circles. But my hourglass is running on empty and I have writing to do. Maybe I’l be a success tomorrow. Or next week. Or next leap year. Maybe I’m already a success and I don’t even know it. Sure.

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What Price Literature?

That favorite book on your shelf—how much is it worth to you? Sure, ebooks count, too. Would you say five bucks, easy? Ten? Twenty-five? Might you go so far as to say priceless? How can you put a value on one of your most cherished possessions?

burstluridImagine you’re publishing your very own volume, and imagine you’ve got to slap a price tag on it. So you study the marketplace, other forms of entertainment, and how you spend your dough in general. If you look at it all too close, I guarantee you’ll go nuts.

Take my upcoming tome, for instance. We’ve got a collection of 11 shorts stories, more than 70,000 words, 212 pages in a 6×9 paperback. I can conservatively estimate that it takes five hours to read this book. Probably longer. That equates to three days’ worth of viewing to an avid Netflix user, the value of one buck. On the other hand, compared to the average movie theater, the value jumps up to around $20. The time value tops a staggering $50 looking at the cost of CDs. Stacking it against the cost of downloading single MP3s at $0.99 a pop is completely off the charts.

A froufrou Starbucks drink could run you a five spot. A gallon of gas goes for $3.45, a gallon of milk $3.64, and most people pony up about $50 every month for their mobile phone service. Using those kinds of expenditures to price your book twists one’s brain into knots.

Logic says look at the marketplace. Logic says consider book size, genre, author recognition. But logic, my friends, has no place in book selling. Logic can go take a flying leap. You can find new copies of paperbacks starting at one penny. Loads of ebooks are being given away. There’s no true middle ground, no one reasonable average, no apples to apples—even if you find an apple, you can bet it’s thick with worms.

There is no right, there is no wrong. I’m left figuring what I want to make per paperback and ebook, and price accordingly. The ultimate bottom line’s with the reader, anyway. If you love my book, the sky’s the limit—how can you put a price tag on love? If you hate it, you wouldn’t want to give me two cents for it. Sure.

 

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Would You Sell Your Soul on Amazon?

If that headline sucked you in, that means I’m learning. The art of the huckster. The pitch and woo. The bait, the push, the draw, the close.

"What are you selling, Johnny?" "Whaddaya got?"

“What are you selling, Johnny?”
“Whaddaya got?”

What am I selling? Just the same thing you’re selling. The same as you and everyone and their mother. Sally Fields, the president, the man in the moon. I’m selling me.

I’m selling my Facebook profile, my Twitter tweet, my ether charm. If you go for any of that, maybe you’ll go for this here bridge I’m trying to unload. I’ve also got some pet rocks and a slightly used personality. But don’t take my word for it—rent my personality for a few days and purchase it later if you like. And I can make you the sweetest payment plan you ever did see.

I’ll bet you’re tempted. Am I right, or am I right? Your curiosity runneth over like George Lucas’s bank account. Now there’s a man who can sell.

Me? I can’t help myself. It’s not like I’ve always longed to get thick into the selling game. It’s not like I was born to be the the poster child for Glengarry Glen Ross II. But self-publishing’ll do that to you.

Sure, you can write a book and choose to do nothing with it. Reaching an audience? That’s asking for loads of aggravation. But if you prefer foregoing that peace of mind, welcome to the new Madison Avenue. Query agents. Query publishers. (Query’s fancy talk for sell.) Or publish the thing independently.

Every step of the indie way there’s another consideration involving the old flim and the flam. There’s selling the book to proofreaders, getting blurbs and reviews, designing the cover, lining up bookstores and readings and the media. You might even try to sell to a reader or two.

Sure. That’s what I’m up to. Watching the shill hit the fan. But there’s just thing more, one last piece to figure. And it’s the mother of the whole shebang. It’s at the drop-dead center and heart of all this soul-mongoring. Who’s the yoyo that sold me on the idea of writing a book in the first place?

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Publish It Yourself and Welcome to Hell

Maybe you don’t know which side is up. A bit dazed. A bit confused. Punch-drunk, even. Shall we say, perhaps, bewitched, bothered and bewildered? Sure. Let’s say that.

The author on a good day.

The author on a good day.

If that’s the case and you’re wondering where to turn next, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got just the gig for you. The perfect enterprise. The supreme undertaking that’ll spin your wheels like they’ve never been spun before. Sure.

Yes, you too can put your best frazzled foot forward when you self-publish your own book. The mind-boggling, overwhelming bottomless pit of indecision can be yours if you act now. Platforms, formats, editors, designers and distributors are standing by. But act now before submission guidelines change every couple of minutes.

Publishing’s the true trick in this scenario. Cranking out the book itself is a comparative snap. Sure, writing the great American novel’s the easy part. Millions are doing it each and every day. And if English is your second language, don’t let that stop you. Who said the great American novel has to be in American, anyway?  Give me your tired, your poor, your pigeon English—didn’t Hunter S. Thompson say that? In Gonzo English?

These things run in cycles, in case you hadn’t noticed. A few cycles back everyone and their mother had a movie script. The next “Gone With the Gravity Unchained in Twelve Years.” But we did that one to death and turned to talk shows. If Johnny, Merv and Dave can do it, why not Rosie, Grodin and Conan? Right now, books are the new black, and indie publishing is the new purgatory.

With self-publishing comes one, big daddy catch, too. See, there’s a gazillion questions involved. If you go the physical book route, there’s all those decisions about page count, font size, leading, etc. Around and around she goes. Paper or e-book, you’re still going to need a cover. You’ll need a snappy title, too. And a cover graphic. And a pithy blurb from pithyblurbs.com. And that’s not to mention your pen name. For instance, you know how many different Ben Solomons you’ll find on Amazon alone? Christie, Chandler, Steele—seems like the best authors are already taken. Are you going to distribute your book on your lonesome or go the way of Smashwords or Untreed Reads or Lulu or around and around it goes? I could go on. You get the idea.

So back to that big daddy catch. Multiply all those above factors by infinity and you get an idea of the noose you’re tying. And that’s not to mention publicity and promotion. You’ve got press releases and interviews and advertising. There are reviewers and blogs and social media—before you’re done it’ll feel like  anti-social media. I could go on. You get the idea.

So back to that big daddy catch. With all of that to contend with, and then some, it comes down to this: there is no right way. No two indie ventures are the same, successes and flops alike. On the one hand, you have to respect the hell out anyone who’s managed even a nominal victory in all this. On the other hand, you’ve got every justification to fall flat on your face—you didn’t know any better the same as everyone else.

So let’s take a bath together. Jump in face first. Dive, even. The water’s fine. Or maybe there’s no water at all. Sure.

 

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Take Your Best Shot

Dead in the water. Before you start. You’ve got about as much of a chance as a cheerleader for electroshock therapy. Sure.

Independent publishing ain’t the future. It’s here. It’s now. It’s happening. It’s the revolution that everyone and their Aunt Sylvia has been waiting for, right? Come on in, the water’s fine. The more the merrier. You can’t have too much of a good thing. Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m thinking of the old line about a tree falling in the forest. Today, there are so many people in the forest, so many trees toppling, you couldn’t hear one from another if you tried. But what else can you do but try?Target

The catch has always been getting noticed. That’s assuming you’ve got something worth noticing. In the old days, meaning a couple years ago, you had to get the attention of agents and publishers. Any way you could. By hook or by crook. Today, going the self-publishing route, you’re looking to garner the attention of John and Jane Doe.

Indie publishing feels a whole lot more direct. More immediate. And that’s potentially more rewarding. But it’s a cinch that marketing and promoting yourself can be just as daunting as it ever was.

If you’re a writer, what else can you do? If translating those voices in your head to the blank page is what you do, you’ve got to take your best shot…whatever the hell that is. And you’re completely on your own to figure it out.

One thing’s for sure—nothing’s for sure. There’s no right or wrong, no up or down, no absolutes in the world of writing, whether it’s regarding artistic or business aspects. There’s no roadmap, no one-size-fits-all “Successful Publishing for Dummies.” I can’t tell you the way to do it. No one can tell you the way to do it. Therein lies the remarkable leveler.

The playing field’s the same for all us wannabe self-publishers. It’s fair game for everyone. Anyone can do it. Everyone’s got a shot.

So you keep writing. Write your best. And take your best shot.

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No One Sweats the Small Stuff

Easy to over think. Those little gray cells pounding. The brow furrowed, eyes narrowed. Put your left foot in, put your left foot down. Pick both feet up and fall on the ground. Sure.

A big-five agent discusses the merits of first-time writers with the author.

A big-five agent discusses the merits of first-time writers with the author.

The book is distracting. Nothing fatal. But it sure makes for the 5,000-pound Packard in the room. So far I’m on schedule as far as my monthly short story series is concerned. Tales 49, 50 and 51 are falling into place, thank you. And on time, so far. Go figure. But thoughts about the book swim about like an up and coming victim thrashing at the surface of his liquid sarcophagus. The melodrama!

I’m big on perspective. Real big. Why do some people appear to grow wiser? Gained perspective. What gives Marlowe his snap, crackle, pop? A unique perspective. What puts the Mm in Michelangelo?  Perspective, baby.

Which leads me to the maxim: no one sweats the small stuff. If you’re sweating it, must be something big. It doesn’t matter if it’s screwy or compulsive or eccentric, even. If you’re sweating it, it’s gotta have weight. To you, at least. Of course there’s always a catch—whatever it is, is it really so damn important? Maybe you should second guess its ranking.

That’s how I feel as I toil away at my first book. Do you know how many unknowns are involved for the uninitiated author? I’ll spare you the whole known unknowns, unknown unknowns, etc. There’s plenty. Trust me.

  • Should the cover go towards a throwback, pulp-ish take to hook potential readers? Or should it embrace a wider audience with a more contemporary feel?
  • Can I get away with self-formatting?
  • What distribution is smartest? Smashwords? Untreed Reads? Bookbaby?
  • When should I release the damn thing?
  • How the hell do I get anyone to notice?
  • Do I have to blog about Miley Cryus and Justin Bieber?

I tell myself to turn down the heat. After all, I’ve got more strikes going against me than a Chicago baseball team. We’re talking a first book. We’re talking self-published. And we’re talking a collection of short stories, no less. Not exactly the kind of stuff to make the Paris Review sit up and take notice. I expect to have a whole new perspective on those babies. Six months from now. A year from now, maybe. Life’s a revolving door that leads you to another revolving door.

For now, I’m in miniature schnauzer mode. For quintessential dogged determination, there’s a breed for you. Strong and stubborn. I’m putting my head down. Forging ahead. Plowing. Arms up, swinging, but no looking back or stopping to smell the billboards. Hammer it out, the mug in the mirror says. Hammer it out as damn well as you can and move onto the next. The small stuff can go sweat itself to death.

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Fiction Submission: On Attempting Critical Mass

Pro-markets. Semi-pro. Token. Free. Anti-markets. Depending on the category your jumble of words falls into, there’s plenty of markets holding their breath for the next, great submission. Doesn’t mean it’s mine, of course, but crazier things have happened. Sure.

I’m about to send out my ninth story into that netherworld, that black hole of unseen editors and assistants and hobbyists and other obsessive-compulsives. Right now I’m still in that category where I’ll throw anything at any wall, hoping against hope it doesn’t splatter back all over me. Blog-zines, ezines, webzines, magazines, antholozines. Paying markets and free markets. I’ll submit to just about anyone crazy enough to open the transom. Sure.

I suppose that’s how most wordsmiths start out. Hellbent on everything, ready to accept anything. Anything for the resume. Any clips you can get. Anyway you can. Until you realize you just tied up one of your best works. I guess that’s just part and parcel of the racket. You pays your dues and you takes your chances.

You have to assume you’ve got the goods going in. What’s the point, otherwise? So you have to allow that presumption.

Presuming that, I’m looking to measure two things. How many works, if any, can I get accepted and into final print and for how much? And if I can start pulling that off, how many submissions do I need to have out there to keep some sort of momentum going? Ain’t that rich? Sure. Those are the kinds of questions designed for wrinkled Greeks in wrinkled sheets to discuss amongst themselves.

I’m figuring an even dozen is a nice, cozy minimum. Maybe a little too cozy. Probably approaching 50 is more like it. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Writing 50 yarns worth submitting? That’s why I’m targeting the first dozen. Then go for another. And another. Before you know it, you’ve got quite a spreadsheet going and get to have fun playing around with sorting by submission date or response time.

I’ve even run across an amusing, little distraction along the way. See, one of my latest creations is another short story series. The fantasy regarding these tales would be to get one story accepted, then the second, then the third. Slowly, sure, but eventually, some readers and editors would start recognizing the series popping up all over the place. Wouldn’t that be a gas? It’s the kind of fantasy that can drive the next 2,500 words. Sometimes. If you’re lucky. Sure.

In the meantime, I’m still cranking out the three monthly yarns for my hard-boiled subscription series. It’s all enough to keep me off the streets, anyway. Enough to keep me plenty busy. Enough to keep me out of trouble as far as the real world is concerned.

And as long as I can claim one paying subscriber, that makes me a professional writer. Just in case any of those editors get curious or nosey. That’s all that separates a writer from a hobbyist, a pro from an amateur. Your stuff has to be out there for a price tag. It doesn’t have to be good—just paid for and published. There’s always a catch.  Sure.

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You Can’t Always Give Away What You Want

They say you can’t take it with you. I don’t know about that. What I do know is that it’s tough giving it away. But I’m not talking about money.

I’m talking about a subscription series. I’m talking about giving away a year’s subscription for free. And talk about a hard sell. Sure.

The subject is hard-boiled detective fiction. Very old school. Very retro detective. And I’m convinced there’s an audience for it. I know there’s a huge audience for it. An immense audience.

So I’ve got this subscription series I’m trying to get off the ground. Seemed to me that the easiest thing in the world would be to give away subscriptions. In a pig’s eye. Finding the audience, reaching the audience, selling the audience. It’s like being a marketing detective. Sure.

But what do I know? I must have misplaced my business doctorate or my marketing degree. I can’t even seem to find my blogging diploma. So I guess I don’t know much.

Hard-boiled fiction on a subscription basis is more than a bit unusual. Maybe that makes me a ground-breaker. On the other hand, maybe it’s not being done for good reason. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

What I can put out there are some dumbed-down metrics. I’m talking simple. Stupid simple. For instance, the number of “likes” on Facebook for three of the all-time big-boys of hard-boiled fiction top 60,000. Yeah, that’s gotta include some overlapping, but still. That’s an awful lot of likes. And that’s just on Facebook.

Then again, on the other hand, do your like Robert Downey Jr? I’m not sure why, but his following is split up on Facebook. He’s got a big-time following on his main page—we’re talking millions. But on his Italian fan page? A mere 17,000.

So what do you with that information? How do you interpret it? How do you boil it down, sift through it and make your calculations?

I don’t. I just sit down at the keyboard and write the next month’s stories. And I wonder how the hell to give it away.

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Fiction Meets Performance

So I’ve got a couple of readings lined up. Both are regular reading series, both slots will be real short.

But I’m trying it out as part of the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” approach. Readings are definitely outside of what I consider direct marketing and promotion opportunities.

It’s easy to burn your time. Too easy. So I try to concentrate most on direct potential. In other words, I’m pitching a subscription series that presents short stories for download. So I consider the stuff of blogs and banner ads to be direct. The reader’s already online and can stay online and directly access my writing.

A beautiful billboard over the expressway sounds awful sexy. But it’s hardly targeted. And can I expect drivers to scrawl out a website, or tell it to Siri, and then go to a computer, open up their note, and visit my site? Sure, it’d be a blast to see my ad hanging above I-94, but that’s about as direct as hawking tombstones at the auto show.

Same idea applies to print ads. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine is one terrific market for my work, but it’s not only pricey, it’s one step removed from my physical marketplace. People don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “Gee, I better go find me a hard-boiled detective series.” So I’ve got to go looking for them, and the closer I can find them online, the better.

So readings qualify as indirect undertakings. Can I really expect to discover a whole new world of followers from a 15-minute read? Of course not. But when you’re struggling to get established, I guess you’ll try anything. You’ll put it out there anyway and every way you can. More is more. Even one subscriber at a time. One plus one is two. Two plus two is four. You can’t get away from math.

There is one more argument for reading that actually goes beyond publicity . It sounds like a gas.

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