Tolliver Tales for June 2017

Please follow the link provided to enjoy the June Issue of Tolliver Tales, with news from the author and events relived and anticipated. Tolliver Tales June 2017

A Review of Publishing Today

With a title this assumptive, I hasten to acknowledge I possess no lofty credentials or superior access to data upon which to base the ideas which follow. I am not a queen bee, I am a drone. But even the drone bee is cognizant of change in the quality of the honey over a period of time.

Two weeks ago, I addressed a chapter of the California Writers Club, to attempt to describe how I had been drawn to indie publishing, and explain (perhaps to myself as much as my audience) why I have stayed with it. For reference, I turned to the 150 or so blog articles I have written since 2013, when I had truly embarked upon the adventure of writing and self publishing. I took my audience along on my adventure from that year to the present.

Memory serves only to confuse. As I reviewed my past articles in preparation for my talk, I was startled to find how much I remembered wrongly, or at least remembered only partially. I have seen myself as a Don Quixote tilting against the windmills of the large publishing houses on behalf of the little known but not untalented midline writer. What I forgot was the hundred or so query letters I had sent to those very houses on behalf of my first Zack Tolliver, FBI novel THE OTHER. My near misses included an acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of that acceptance (the house changed its direction), another acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of acceptance (the acquiring agent left the house for another position), and many similar occurrences. This experience brought me to understand there are many circumstances beyond quality of writing involved in such decisions. It also caused me to wonder how many talented novelists are the best writers we’ve never heard of.

Another area where memory failed is the degree of change in the publishing world. Much has changed, but much has remained the same. While the number of indie published eBooks sold each year grows steadily, so does the world population, yet the ratio of indie published to traditionally published, despite ebbs and flows, hasn’t changed all that much since 2014. What has changed is use, that is, how people read today––with the iPad or smartphone, these busy people read on the go; at the airport, dentist, etc. But back home in the arm-chair, or in bed at night, many still prefer to turn physical pages.

The real change, to my mind, is access to more readers by writers, and access to more writers by readers. Reader rating systems, while faulty (no two readers use them the same way), and reader reviews (ditto) have become essential tools for books, just as they are for all other products. There is a ground leveling quality to all of this; I doubt readers will ever bother to use one method to rate traditionally published authors and another to rate indie authors. All books will be adjudicated by the same readers using the same system, whether authored by Tony Hillerman, or…well…me.

This, in a nutshell, is why marketing plays and will continue to play a huge role in the future of books. Here the large traditional publishing house would seem to have the advantage of large traditional dollars, to spend as they see fit to make the book they bet upon as visible as possible––but probably not mine, or yours. The indie publisher must come to terms with a lesser budget, and learn to pump social media to the gain as much traction as possible.

So what has changed in the past four years and what remains the same?

What is new? Stockpiling eBooks; i.e., buying when they are cheap and shelving them electronically for a rainy day. What is new? A demonstrated desire for faster reads, books of 150 pages or so for that plane ride from LA to NY. What is new? An increasing number of hybrid authors and increasing numbers of eBooks published by traditional houses.

Still true, traditional publishers will need to find a way to compete with Amazon’s 70 percent royalties. Still true, indie publishing is faster, pays better, offers more creative opportunities, and allows experimentation with price and cover. Still true, the best road to success for any author is to write the best possible book, find the best possible cover, and then write ten more of the same.

Tolliver Tales for April 2017

Concerned that a follower, subscriber, or friend who should receive a copy of Tolliver Tales Bulletin does not, we decided to send a copy as a blog post. We will continue to send one by Email as well, working hard to perfect our mailing list.  Enjoy.

Tolliver Tales April 2017

Why Pre-sale?

Pre-order for books is a fairly new tactic, now wholeheartedly embraced by Amazon, iBooks, Smashword and other on-line sellers. My newest Zack Tolliver, FBI novel Under Desert Sand will be placed on pre-order at Amazon.com immediately after Easter. In this article I will discuss what I feel are the advantages and disadvantages of using pre-order for the author––and for the buyer.

I have placed books on pre-order with Amazon Kindle twice before, with mixed results. The first book I tried was CAT. I hyped it a lot and sold several copies before its actual publication date. Later, I put my new, experimental (for me) mid-grade book Payu’s Journey up for pre-sale. I sold just one (thanks, mom). But to be fair, that sale represented a large portion of all sales for that book as the month went on (Payu did not sell well as an Ebook – more about why in another article).

On the whole, I found the results discouraging, perhaps not good enough to warrant the preparation, hype, and angst as the deadline approaches. But I’ve learned some things since then, which I will share. But first, I’ll examine the benefits to the buyer/reader, thus raising the immediate question: are there any? It’s not as if in this digital age there won’t be enough copies to go around. Yet, after some research and listening in chat rooms I found a few reasons to purchase on pre-order:

1. The memory factor. How often have you read about a great new book and decided to buy it, only to find it is not yet available? The months go by toward publication and the book slips from mind – opportunity lost. Now you can pre-order the book, and then forget about it. Most stores will Email you when the book becomes available.
2. Price. Often (usually) the price offered at pre-sale is lower. Amazon guaranties the price will be the lowest for the book during the pre-sale period all the way to midnight on release day. This means if you pre-order a month in advance at one price, and two days later the price dips on pre-order, that’s the price you’ll ultimately pay. Often (as with my books) the price on pre-order is the lowest for the book, ever.
3. Convenience. If it is a book you know you will buy in any case, buy it on pre-order and “git-er-done”.
4. Shelve it. The beauty of digital books is unlimited shelf space. Pre-order the books you know you want and let them accumulate. Never be without that bedtime reading.

The benefits for the author are clearer, even if some are misunderstood. Here are a few:

1. Visibility. Visibility is king, and pre-order raises visibility for your book immediately.
2. ASIN. On Amazon, your book is assigned an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). With the ASIN, you can create links from any URL to your book, simplifying the task of finding it for potential readers. You can also use it to create a link to the review page for your book, to simplify (and hopefully encourage) that process.
3. Preview. Pre-order on Kindle offers you a preview of how your book description will look on your page, which you can change if need be at Author Central later. You can preview other components as well, and make changes quickly after the book is released.
4. Coming Soon. Your book is shown through the Coming Soon filter, offering extra visibility.
5. Momentum. If your book sells many pre-orders, it can begin life with a strong sales rating, and good momentum.(Fair warning: if not, the opposite is true.)

There are concerns, and some disadvantages and several risks to authors offering pre-orders. They will be topics for future articles in this column. All these concerns can be overcome with due diligence and preparation. Particularly, Amazon’s ever-adapting algorithm works harder to benefit the author utilizing pre-sale, by increasing the book’s visibility more than ever before. Just how much more, and how effectively, are two questions I hope to answer after the pre-sale of Under Desert Sand is complete.

A Conference just for Indie Writers

The free on-line conference for indie writers and publishers, Indie Fringe, is coming around again. It happens at ten Saturday morning March 18. This is one of the best resources you never heard of. Again, it’s absolutely free. You do need to register, but that takes seconds. They just want your name and Email. Did I mention it’s free?

The focus this year is How to Write, Produce and Distribute A Book. That about covers everything I want to know. The conference is streamed as separate workshops direct from Olympia, London, and is one of the few events dedicated strictly to indie authors.

Visit selfpublishingadvice.org/what-self-publishers-need-to-know-now-ibf-2017 and push the Register Now button to get aboard.

Today 70% of all adult fiction sales are ebooks, 30% of them sold by indie authors. Then there’s audio, poised to sell on many more music platforms now that Apple and Audible (Amazon) have terminated their exclusive deal together. There will be sessions to address these topics. Then the question of how to advertise; should you pay for it? Use Amazon ads? What about Facebook ads? All of this will be covered.

All together Indie Fringe offers 24 sessions, all free (did I mention that?). Speakers include award-winning writers, international speakers, marketing experts, a representative from IngramSpark, website experts, illustrator experts, and so on. Don’t worry about missing a presentation because it conflicts with another. That’s the beauty of on-line conferences––it’s all there for you, just scroll down and find it.

It does take time to read/hear all that is written/said, but you would spend even more time at your local writer’s conference, wouldn’t you? Here, you can skip what you don’t want to hear, or leave half way through (no one will see you). I have volumes of material saved from last year’s conference that I still haven’t had time to read. But I will, I will!

So get aboard. There is no reason not to!

Crunching The Numbers

As the old year wanes, the time has come to evaluate my book sales and learn from the daRich Sellingta, hopefully to improve sales in 2017.

Many charts and graphs are available to authors through the auspices of various retailers and distributors. In part, because these businesses must keep the data for their own purposes, in part because they know we eagerly follow the ups and downs of our sales with the same dedication others follow the stock markets.

My books retail almost exclusively on Amazon, and mostly as eBooks. I have tucked a toe in the waters of audio books, I believe that market will grow, and hopefully I will learn how to evaluate it and use it better. I sell almost all of my print books at signings, launches, and craft fairs throughout the year, shelving only a handful at independent retail outlets. The latter sell very few, requiring special promotions to do so, such as signings or book talks. Following such events, the sales stagnate once again. It is a lot of work, and takes a lot of time, for little gain.

I participated in five craft fairs and launches in 2016. I presented three illustrated talks and signed and sold books afterward, and I participated in an Old Time Radio Show with Sisters in Crime. Sporadic as these events were for me, they accounted for my second greatest volume of book sales.

An independent, self-publishing author must follow the fluctuations of the book publishing world of today, no easy matter. However, I have learned there are marketing constants, unchanged after decades of upheaval. They are quality and quantity. The human constants for success are persistence and patience; neither are easy.

A whopping 78% of my 2016 book sales income came from eBooks on Amazon. The remaining 22% came from all other sales. Of that number, 55% came from my talks, launches and craft fairs, and the Radio Show. Also of interest, the total of royalties from my only traditionally published book was 6.5% of the remaining 22%. Finally, my new entry into the campaign, the audio books, sold 5% of that 22%.

What have I gleaned from these numbers? I see four clear directions for 2017. 1) I will continue to sell eBooks on Amazon, increasing the number of books in my series as I am able. 2) I will participate in more craft fairs, book launches, and present more talks in the new year. 3) I will convert more books to audio books and endeavor to learn more about that market. 4) I will refrain from publishing traditionally unless a publisher is willing to make me an offer I can’t refuse.

But I must do more. As Social media grows, and changes, I know I must learn and change with it. I will not attempt to engage in every platform as it comes along. I cannot, and it will not serve my best interests to try. I will use a single platform (probably Facebook) as my hub and link to other platforms that appear able to service me best.

I continue to have a fond hope to sell more print books, perhaps persuade a large distributor to take an interest in my series. I know they sell when placed in front of readers––I see it happen.

It is reflection time, when as an author I count my blessings and thank those who have supported me and my writing over the year. I particularly thank my reviewers, for good or ill, for the time you took to present your thoughts about my novels. While I might not always agree, I will always appreciate the thought and time taken to present your views.

Amazon has tightened guidelines for those eligible to review, excluding close personal relationships with the author (sorry, mom) and other close ties. It is now much more difficult to accumulate reviews (without cheating). A review is still the best gift you can give an author.

Changing Genre Midstream

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As writer and reader I’ve noticed few authors write in more than one genre. I wondered why.

An author of a crime mystery series, I decided to try another category of writing. In so doing, I think I may have learned the answer to my question. It is not about ability so much as expectations, not about the writer so much as the reader. Here’s what I mean:

It is beneficial, I believe, to explore your capabilities to their farthest extent, whether physical, intellectual, or creative. Applying this philosophy to writing, I wanted to explore my capabilities in multiple genres. I had written mysteries, as mentioned above, and a history. The history was a picture book for Arcadia Press, not easily confused with any other category. I wanted to write a mid-grade/YA book and so penned Payu’s Journey, a fanciful anthropomorphic story of a dingo set in Australia. The animal lost her pups, and in an attempt to recover them took a human baby by accident. She decided to raise the baby as her own.

I wrote it, self-published it as an Ebook, and soon the cover appeared alongside my mystery series on Amazon. It is a fun little book, entertaining for all ages and published with no real expectations other than reader enjoyment. Little did I know the effect it would have on my other books.

My mystery series sales fell off immediately.

At first, I put it down to the vagaries of the market, with which we are all familiar. By the second month of low sales, however, I realized something had changed and scoured social media and the Amazon site to attempt to discover what it was.

And then it came to me.

As I viewed my novel covers on my Amazon site, I realized there would naturally be some confusion. Author’s books are not pictured within categories or genres on the site, but simply in a row. As a reader, two assumptions come to mind. First, that Payu’s Journey is book five of the crime mystery series. Imagine the disappointment as the mystery buff begins to read about a dingo and a baby. Second, the reader might well assume I had finished the series. Most readers want to read a longer series, not a short one, and would likely choose another author. Those readers who had read the first four books of my series would naturally conclude it was complete, and move on.

There is another, less obvious difficulty. Readers tend to become comfortable with an author within a certain genre; Stephen king in Horror, Larry McMurtry in Westerns, Tony Hillerman in Navajo mysteries. They feel uncomfortable with that author writing a different kind of book. Can John Sanford write a steamy romance?––probably. Would anyone want to read it?––probably not.

With all the authors available to readers today, I suppose there will be even more of a tendency to typecast them.

What to do? Of course, the synopsis that accompanies Payu’s Journey at the Amazon site is clear, but my intent to continue the series is not. I made an effort to explain it in social media, in my Amazon author bio, and everywhere else I could think of, but there really is no good way to forestall a reader’s decision. My sales did pick up again, but never to the previous level. I understand now the only solution is to put action to my words and publish the fifth book of the mystery series ASAP.

Am I advocating for an author to remain true to a single genre? No, I still resist that. For those selling more widely than me, focusing on paperbacks in stores or marketing in other ways, this situation is likely not as much of a problem. But for a novelist still developing readership, with Ebooks sold through Amazon as a large source of book income, it is for me.

I intend to continue to pursue my creative limits. I intend to publish parts 2 and 3 of Payu’s Journey to complete the trilogy. Now that I understand the nature of the problem, though, I will concentrate on finishing my next Zack Tolliver mystery novel first and foremost.