In the spirit of the season, I thought I would serve up some predictions for 2013, based on a post I wrote today. It’s targeted at indie authors, but is more of a commentary on the state of the self-publishing union at present rather than anything else.
NEWS: A must-read new interview with Write Into Print showcases everything you ever wanted to know about, er, me!
Many indie authors are complaining that their sales are down. That may be true. Could be any number of things causing it. I speculate as to some possible reasons in my predictions. But with all the gloom and doom, at least three success stories from December are noteworthy. First, my friend and fellow author Steven Konkoly, who I did an Author Spotlight with about a year ago, hit in the Top 100 paid on Amazon on Xmas day, and has held remarkably well with his now-over-a-year-old action thriller Black Flagged. That translates into thousands of books per day. You can do the math, but suffice it to say December is being very good to Steven. Couldn’t happen to a nicer or more talented guy, either.
The second account is R.S. Guthrie, who I also recently featured in an Author Spotlight, who released his follow-up to Blood Land (one of the best books of the year, IMO), Money Land, on Dec. 27, and watched it catapult into the Top 500. The market is volatile, so ranking will bounce around, but his other books are also selling nicely – my hunch is December is treating him well.
The third December story is my own. I don’t like to publish revenue numbers, but this month is my biggest month to date, up 30% from November, which was a huge, and I do mean huge, month for me. This, 18 months into my journey. Over 100K books sold this year, not counting free downloads. How next year goes is anyone’s guess, but for now, so far so good.
The reason for highlighting these examples is because Steve’s book was 14 or so months old when it took off on this go around. My oldest is 18 months old. Rob’s are about the same, if not a bit older. It can take a while for a title to hit, and yes, aggressive and well-timed promotions can help, but foremost, having a book worth reading in a popular genre is a big part of it. Then again, maybe not. In January I’ll be hard at work penning 50 Shades of Yarn for Mr. Mittens, an erotic cat adventure featuring a billionaire and a demure but adventurous vixen who is obsessed with knitting and kink, which I believe will blow the lid off my sales records to date.
You think I’m kidding.
Only a little.
But on to the predictions. Feel free to disagree with them, or disregard them. We can return next year around this time and see how they fared. That’s part of the fun – returning to see how much of an ass hat I was only a few short months prior.
2) The environment will get tougher. Worsening economics in the U.S., greater reader discrimination (as when VCRs were new, for the first year or two the novelty of being able to watch a movie in your house meant that people bought or rented virtually anything – but as the selection grew, they became more discriminating over what they were willing to spend money on), and an ever larger supply of ebooks meeting a demand that is growing far slower than supply is, will all make it harder to rise above the clutter and get noticed, which one must do if one wishes to sell books.
3) The environment will get tougher, redux. Traditional publishers will lower prices or release some of their huge backlog of titles for which they own the ebook rights, creating even more competition for indies. Many of these books will be marginal or won’t have withstood the test of time, but supply will increase even more as trad pubs try to duke it out for dwindling reader dollars.
4) Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil.
5) Some will hit big, but nobody will be able to predict who, nor will they be able to reproduce the success. Put simply, once something works, it’s over, and those trying to follow in successful footsteps will fail to replicate the win. Which won’t stop people from trying, but it will be a pointless effort.
6) Rudimentary grasp of craft will become a prerequisite to authoring a book if you want to make more than beer money. The perceived environment where you can be illiterate and still find someone who will give your book a shot will dry up as readers demand more in exchange for their limited time. Just as agents and publishers used to be gatekeepers, more and more readers will become their own gatekeepers, and won’t suffer ill-crafted books lightly. Writing good books will become even more important as 2013 develops, although writing good books won’t in itself guarantee success of any sort. See point 4 for the actual odds, which I invented as I wrote this, but are probably optimistic at that.
7) Amazon didn’t “double down” on Select as many seem to believe, so the payout isn’t likely to be significantly more than it has been historically. What I believe they did is correctly project that, A) adding international markets will dilute the payout from the fixed pool of $700K they had set aside, reducing it to a level where most of the decent authors wouldn’t participate unless they added cash to at least somewhat maintain current payout levels, and B) they forecast the number of kindles they planned to sell between Black Friday and February, and calculated how much they would need to add to keep payouts relatively attractive. Then some bright lad in ‘Zon marketing positioned that like it was a big bonus instead of what it actually was, and a lot of folks who don’t think critically assumed the payout would go up. I don’t believe it will, but I’d love to be wrong, having seen about 1000 borrows in December. But I’m not holding my breath.
8) Amazon will continue to lean towards pushing trad pub books and their own labels, as they have most of 2012, for two reasons: Trad pub books generally cost more so they make more absolute dollars from doing so, and trad pubs pay advertising dollars back to Amazon, whereas indies don’t. This isn’t because Amazon is the great Satan. It’s because it makes better business sense to push products you’ll make more money selling, and higher-priced products from producers who will give you money to advertise tend to be more lucrative than lower-priced products from folks who produce no ad revenue. And the reason for pushing their own labels is obvious – more margin. It’s all about margin. So deal with it.
9) Other vendors like Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc. will take market share from Amazon, but unless you’re getting as good or better visibility in those venues, your odds will stay about the same. I understand that some think that more markets mean more opportunity, and on its face that would make sense, but if the odds are really about 99% against you making anything more than a few sales or ever turning a profit, the number of markets you still aren’t selling in will be slim consolation. Which is the reality of the book selling business. It’s a tough gig.
10) I am probably wrong about some or all of this. Think critically, for yourself. Come up with your own damned predictions and stop listening to pseudo-pundits on the web.
So there they are. The message is clear. In a muddled, garbled way. You can win, but the odds aren’t good. Having said that, I believe that focusing on writing, and not so much on marketing, is a good idea, but as Steven’s, Rob’s, and my own cases should indicate, a decent marketing approach can also be a game changer. I have read plenty of blogs advising folks to just focus on the writing and let the marketing handle itself, but I think that’s disastrous for new authors, and most established ones as well. My solution is different: allocate time for both, as they are both important to building a career. The best books in the world won’t sell themselves, and people need to know about them in order to buy them. Amazon won’t market them for you. None of the other sites will. So you are the marketing engine, as a book seller, who has to capture the readers’ attention and lure them into trying your books. Once they do, your job as the writer is to have crafted as compelling and well-written a product as possible, but if you wish to succeed in this business, I think you have to do both writing and marketing, not only one. I believe that notion is misguided panacea for the self-pubbing masses, and is a recipe for failure if followed to the letter. I personally devote about 80% of my time to writing, and 20% to marketing, which consists of promotions, advertising, interviews, blogging, tweeting and message board participation.
That’s all I have. I need to get back to writing now, having used up all my marketing time for the day. Have a good New Year, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Oh, and buy my books. You’ll live longer and be happier. Really. Mostly.
Both JET and King of Swords are specially priced for the holidays, so if you’re feeling Blake-curious, those would be good places to start. I know. That is probably the shortest self-promotional bit I’ve ever tossed out. For that, we are probably all grateful.
Given that I’m flush with eggnog (if you can call tequila eggnog, which I do around the holidays, but never mind – don’t be a hater, just go with me on this), I have decided to try something new. No, not round the world with a 300 pound Samoan cook on a tramp steamer bound for Jakarta (although I am not judging). I’m actually talking about a new marketing ploy – a special-priced giveaway contest, where lucky winners can get their grubby mitts on a free Kindle Fire, or gift cards.
NEWS: The Epic Kindle Giveaway promotion was just featured on Ereader News Today!
I’ve never participated in one of these types of promotions before, not because I felt they were beneath me or cheapened my important work, but mainly out of laziness – it always seemed like too much trouble. Fortunately, I was contacted by some of my favorite authors and asked to participate in one, where all I would have to do is show up. That was just my speed.
And so it is that I’m participating in this three day event, from December 27-29, where among other masterpieces, my groundbreaking new thriller JET is only .99, and if you get it, you stand a chance of walking away with all kinds of swag. Since I’ve never been given anything for Xmas besides a jab in the eye with a sharp stick and an order to move along, I’m naturally going to enroll in it and see if I can win everything, perhaps ruining the experience for others, but in the end, not caring, as it’s all about me, and perhaps this is my time in the sun. Probably not, based on experience, but one never knows.
Here’s a list of the books in the promotion. There are some great ones in there, so don’t be a tightwad.
Go load up your kindle with .99 deals, and perhaps win something cool. Not a bad deal. Hope it works. Hard to pay for the bar tab with warm sentiments and reviews…
The URL for the contest can be FOUND HERE. Like Florida and Chicago elections, enter early and often! Everyone’s a winner on this one!
Ho ho ho, I say.
Okay, perhaps I don’t say it out loud, sober, but in my head I do. The point is that it’s Xmas, and that means I’m going to take a break from writing. Not voluntarily, and no, it had nothing to do with a restraining order or anyone in my neighborhood disappearing. Don’t go all McAfee on me. No, it has more to do with eye fatigue and needing to get out and about after 18 solid months of sitting around, writing for 12 hours a day. Sometimes more. That may be good for one’s writing career, but it ain’t so good for one’s physiology, so I’m forcing myself to take a month or so off.
Which brings me to reading. I’m now able to catch up on my backlog, which is embarrassingly large. I’m reading Lawrence Block’s new one (which I’m enjoying no end) and then RS Guthrie’s soon-to-be-released follow up to Blood Land, appropriately titled Money Land. After that, I will be plowing through the roughly 60 books I’ve been sent or downloaded or been asked to read. Chances are slim I’ll get to them all. Probably more like a few dozen, but for me, that’s progress.
One of the things that I find consistently amazing as I read is how great the kindle is. Wow. I mean, I’m used to reading on a computer screen, and it sort of sucks after a while. But the kindle just rocks. What a great innovation by a company that continues to lead the pack in ebook technology, in my opinion – Amazon knew what it was doing, and still does.
That being the case, what does the future hold for readers? Will the iPad upset Amazon’s ruling the roost with the kindle? Will Amazon have to come out with an iPad killer to keep growing? Or will the kindle drop to $49.95 soon? I hope both. The more ereaders in peoples’ hands, the better, not just from my own grubby self-interested standpoint as an author, but also as a world citizen. A literate population is one for which I have more hope than an illiterate one. If the kindle, or iPad, or whatever, can turn the tide of rising functional illiteracy that’s been the legacy of the TV culture, then I’m all for it.
I believe that TV dumbs you down, and one of the things I’m thankful for as a child is that I didn’t ever get into TV – mostly because I was locked in a basement, chained to the wall, but that’s another story. My point is that reading gave me the means to educate myself (ultimately on the corrosive effects of some household chemicals on chain links, to my considerable relief) and learn to reason, rather than staring dully at entertainment presented to me with no thinking required.
And of course, it also means that readers will grow in numbers, which hopefully will translate into a more discerning audience, which as it is exposed to more advanced sorts of reading material, will begin to appreciate books that aren’t written at a second grade level – which is where I come in. Hopefully. All hopefully.
Instead of going off on a mean-spirited rant about the current state of the market, and what the biggest selling novels being some of the most puerile crap I’ve ever read says about us as a civilization, I think I’ll just wish everyone happy holidays, and suggest with a nod and a wink that nothing says Merry Christmas like some Russell Blake books, unless you’re planning on showing up with a bottle of tequila wearing nothing but a Santa hat and some mistletoe. And I’m willing to forgo the mistletoe, to be truthful. Never mind. This is getting off track again.
I think my point is that as both readers and authors, these are the best of times. Readers now have a universe of reasonably-priced material to choose from, and authors have the ability to price their offerings to reach the maximum possible readership while retaining a decent profit. That’s sort of a first during my lifetime. I say we all enjoy it and hope it continues. Because we’ve seen the alternative, and it kind of sucks – high-priced novels of marginal quality by only a handful of names, with virtually no interest within the publishing industry of finding and nurturing new talents – the Ludlums and Cusslers and Forsyths of tomorrow – and with the vast majority of the profit sticking to the middlemen instead of the author.
Amazon changed all that, for which I think we, as authors and readers, owe a lot. For what it’s worth, I buy all my ebooks via Amazon for that reason, as well as because I haven’t gotten the hang of how to get Smashwords to send stuff to my kindle in a click.
So what is the takeaway from all this? Have a happy, happy holiday season, avoid clowns as they’re all alcoholic pedophile cannibals, and buy my crap so you can sneer at your acquaintances when they ask you what you’re reading, and you can smugly respond, “Russell Blake! Oh, you haven’t heard of him? Hmm. I suppose you don’t get much chance to keep current on things, do you?” I imagine a hint of arrogance as you say it, the mistletoe shaking ever so subtly, keeping silent time to the swinging of the Santa hat’s jolly faux-snowball as you sashay to my front porch with the bottle of Cuervo.
Hey. It’s my fantasy. Just let me have that, okay? Don’t be a hater. It’s Christmas, after all.
JET – my breakout novel about a young female ex-Mossad agent who faked her own death to escape her past – has been selling briskly, thank heavens. So have the sequels, JET II and JET III. So what can I do to bring the year to a close with a resounding bang, you ask?
JET IV, of course.
JET IV – Reckoning, wrote itself, and after a trip to the editor, is now ready for prime time. The novel is a bit longer than the others in the series, and continues the legacy of unexpected twists, earth-shattering conspiracies, chases, action, and general mayhem – and even a little romance.
Yes, you read that right.
The R word. It’s a bit of a departure from its predecessors in that respect, but I believe the romantic entanglement expands our understanding of the character and provides an additional dimension. It’s not going to give any of the popular books with bare-chested cowboys on the cover a run for their money, but hey, 50 Shades of JET sounded kind of dumb as a working title anyway, so I didn’t go there. Thankfully. But there are some intriguing conflicts in this one that take her to the next level. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this latest installment as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I’m knee deep in writing the fifth in the Assassin series, Requiem for the Assassin, but have gotten sidetracked, so it won’t be releasing on the 27 as I had hoped. I could probably make it, but I’d have to rush the editing, and that’s never a good idea. In wine parlance, we shall release no novel before its time. Which is my way of saying that instead of finishing the year with 19 novels, it will be 18. I know. I’m a slacker. It is what it is.
I’m really excited about 2013. It will bring JET V, tentatively scheduled for Feb, and then in no particular order, another Assassin book (#6), possibly JET VI, and a Silver Justice sequel. And maybe a Fatal Exchange Sequel. And that’s it. Unless I decide to write Assassin #7. We’ll see.
My thinking is that I’ll put out 4 novels – one per quarter. That will seem like vacation after this year (seven novels). But that’s a ridiculous pace to try to sustain. And I can’t feel my feet anymore. Not that they ever felt particularly noteworthy. But still. Sitting for long periods isn’t to be done for years on end. Unless you’re a guru or a 500 pound shut-in, or lost a bet. None of which describe me.
So that’s all I have for you. JET IV, and holiday cheer, which is code for binge drinking and screaming incoherent obscenities at the circling gangs of clowns cleverly disguised as my neighbors. Which is all I have left now that my relatives stopped visiting.
For which I am endlessly thankful. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Oh, and the JET series is now available in paperback, as is Silver Justice, and within the next week or so, The Geronimo Breach, Fatal Exchange, and the Assassin series. Which means that if you’re wondering what to get that idiot you hate at work you got stuck with for Secret Santa, or want to ruin the minds of some young ones, or are tired of gifting your loser drunk sibling with Starbucks cards he’ll just sell for fifty cents on the dollar so he can buy booze, you can get him a Russell Blake novel or two. It’s the perfect gift. Really. And way cheaper than a pony.
On a serious note, it’s been another incredible year, and I will easily surpass my 100K books sold in 2012 goal. I thank all of you for your continued support and patronage. Except for those of you who hate me and left barely-comprehensible one star snipes disguised as legit reviews. You will die cold and alone in a drainage ditch, your dreams dead, while your enemies mock you.
Which you brought on yourself.
But in this season of celebration and joy, let’s not dwell on that. Better to reach out for someone you love, unless there’s a restraining order involved, in which case…oh, never mind. You’ll just make that sound ugly, too.
Don’t be haters. Now go read something.
I have made no secret about how difficult it is to make it as a writer. And as an indie author, it’s doubly hard, because you are not only writing, but also marketing your work, choosing covers, selecting editors, acting as salesperson, marketing pro, designer, etc.
But there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of success.
I’ll give you several basic ground rules I use. These are things I do to keep myself on track and selling well. If I was going to advise new or seasoned authors who are thinking about self-publishing, these would be engraved in stone.
The first thing is to set a publishing schedule for yourself over the next year. Plug in release dates, then write to meet your deadlines. You would be surprised at what a powerful tool that is. Looking at your calendar and realizing you only have 45 days before your next release can be a powerful catalyst – 45 days to complete your WIP, schedule book covers, allow time for editing, organize blog tours, target reviewers for advance copies, etc. If that doesn’t create a sense of urgency and get you motivated, I don’t know what will.
The concept of discipline, and working at writing like it’s a second job (or a first if you don’t have a job), with hard dates you have to hit, is crucial to maintaining productivity. Writing may be art, but producing and selling books is a business, and businesses have to be run in a business-like way, or they generally fail.
Another obvious rule I’m guilty of forgetting: do everything you can think of to get your name out there. That means spend time in chat rooms that your target reader demographic would frequent – not to place thinly veiled ads for your books, but rather to contribute. Perhaps you can tag your signature with a link to your website. Nothing more overt than that. People don’t want to interact with a salesman. They can smell duplicity a mile away. So join groups where you’re genuinely interested in the topic, and contribute content that’s worth reading. And always try to give more than you’re receiving. Being selfless with your expertise is never a bad thing. On twitter, try to get across a sense of what makes you interesting and unique – be you, not some sanitized caricature of you. Same with Facebook.
If you don’t have a blog, start one. Your readers and target demographic will be a lot more receptive to you if you periodically share your thoughts with them. Contrary to some tomes that advise attempting to glom onto some celebrity in an effort to go viral, I would say just write about what interests you – really interests you. You can’t fake it. Enthusiasm is infectious, and I personally would rather buy a book from someone with unique insights, who seems enthusiastic and knowledgeable, than someone who seems boring. So don’t be boring.
On the marketing side, try different types of promotions. I’ve done cross promotions with other authors. I advertise, and when I do, I push the envelope in the type of advertising I do – I recently did a month on a site devoted to drunk driver arrests – just to see if it would get any traction (it didn’t, but the point is I tried, and continue to look at creative or unorthodox options). I do free book giveaways. I experiment with pricing. I do .99 books or free books for the first in a series.
I never, ever get complacent. You’re either shrinking or growing. Stasis is the beginning of decline.
Divide your writing day up with a set amount of time for writing – no internet, no kids, no distractions – and also allocate time for marketing. Make it disciplined and regular. It takes 30 days to create a habit. Figure out what your routine should be, something sustainable, then stick to it for a month. If you do that, the second month will be easier. And the third, even easier.
Finally, don’t wait for the muse to come to you. Go barging in, bravely, and force her to dance for you. Start writing, and something will come up. It always does.
Do these things, and you’ll be ahead of 99% of your fellow authors. And your odds of success will have just gotten better.
Now for gratuitous self-promotion. I will be releasing JET IV – Reckoning, on December 8, if all goes well. Then, I’m going to take a little break. I was going to try to get Requiem for the Assassin done in time to release December 27, but I don’t think I’m going to make it, so it will be a mid-January release, with JET V targeted for a Feb. 20 or so release. But I have to say I love the new cover for JET IV, and I had to share it with you. When you look at the whole series, it’s pretty cool, I think. JET is selling like cipro during an anthrax scare, so I am grateful for that. If you haven’t given it a whirl, please do. It’s promo priced through year end at .99, so don’t be a cheapskate. Find out what all the buzz is about, and discover why I will have sold over 100K books by year end. JET is a good example of what I do, and I think if you try it, you’ll like it.