Monday, October 5, 2015

What Business Are You In? (Turning Pro Part II)

In my last post, I posed this question to indie authors: Are You Ready To Turn Pro?  This current post continues my challenge to authors who want to more than get published--they want to earn a living with their writing.  I will tell you as hard as it is to do, it can be done. I am a professional writer.  I have earned a good living as a pro-writer for more than twenty years.  But enough about me.  This particular post is to help you distinguish the business we're in from the business of traditional publishers. This is a key component to having a professional career--understanding the competition.

First, a short history of paperback books. While the paperback or "dime store" novel first appeared in England in the 19th Century, paperback novels began being sold here in the US in the late 1930s when Robert de Graff started the company Pocket Books.  Yep, they've been around that long.  At first nobody cared, but when paperbacks took off in the late 40s, publishers started decrying that these books with their colorful often titillating covers were damaging the publishing industry. Then the media got involved, going so far as to attack the type of person who would read a paperback novel.  This hysteria reached it's peak in 1952 when Congress got involved with the House of Representatives Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials.  The publishing industry was so concerned with the rising sales of paper novels that they tried to get them all declared pornographic.  Crazy, right?

Obviously that didn't happen.  But doesn't this hysteria sound familiar? In the 80s the movie industry claimed the advent of the VHS was going to destroy the industry.  Get it??? Innovation frightens industries not yet equipped to deal with it. I am telling this story because if you are an indie author, this debate over paper and digital books has nothing to do with you.  My advice, don't engage in it. It's not our fight. I am not here to decry the end of the paper book industry. I like paper books. I read lots of paper books. But I am in the ebook business, and engaging in this debate takes precious time away from what we should be doing--writing and selling books.  Just because a guy works for McDonalds doesn't mean he can't enjoy and In N Out burger.

Okay, let's get off the touchy subject, and talk about the business you are in versus the business the Big 5 publishers are in.  Big 5 publishers are in the homerun business.  It's no secret that one Harry Potter novel supports all the other novels that don't become hits. Big 5 publishers sign a number of authors, and publish a number of books each month in search of the homerun. When a book is in book stores for three months and the numbers (there's that word again) determine it's not going to be a homerun, the publisher abandons support of that book, putting their money behind the books that seem more promising. They are hedging their bets.  They are sitting at the roulette table spreading their money around. They know that out of the 400 books they publish this year, one of them will break out.

This is why if you've been with a traditional publisher, they either stop supporting your book, or they never support your book. Research to them indicates your book is a loser, so they cut their losses and move on.

We're not in that business.  At least, I'm not.  While I'd love to have a homerun. I don't need a homerun to survive.  They need it so they can have a profit after all the losers.  But I am sitting at the roulette table betting on ONE number.  MY OWN.  My job is to make MY number look as attractive as possible.  I don't need a homerun to earn a living.  I can live off a base hit, a double and I'm dancing in the streets, and a triple for me is bigger than a homerun for them, because I don't have to share the wealth.  What I'm saying here is publishers are not your competition.  But you do have competition, and lots of it.

So who is your competition?  Authors who write in your genre.  If you write thrillers, it's Lee Child; YA paranormal, it's Cassandra Clare; horror, it's Stephen King.  But here's the beauty of it, there are enough readers around to share.  So while James Patterson may be your competition, James Patterson readers don't only read James Patterson.  They read lots of authors.  Why not you? If you buy a Chevy you're probably not going to run out and also buy a Ford. But in our business you can! In our business, your competition can be your greatest resource.  All we need to do is hang out where our competition hangs out.  How do we do that?  That's for another post.

So, what business are we in?  We are in the business of identifying our competition, and hanging out where they hang out to improve our chances of making sales.  The beauty is we don't take business from anyone.  Their readers can be your readers and no one suffers.  How awesome is that?

Are you ready to turn pro?

Monday, September 14, 2015

MATH: The Hidden Key To Your Success As A Writer.

When I was a kid I hated math. It wasn’t that I was bad at math, yet still today, I shudder at the words “long division,” and please don’t say fraaaactions.  Growing up, that word was like nails on a chalk board to me.

But here’s the thing, for authors, especially independent or self-published authors, if you’ve been at this for more than a year, and you’re not yet scratching out a living, you probably need to brush up on your math skills.

“Wait a minute, E, Most indie authors don’t earn a living. Are you telling me the only reason we aren’t successful as authors is MATH?”


Of course there are always other factors—talent being one—but math/numbers is the biggest. How many bestselling novels have you read, and said to yourself “this book is garbage?” Clearly, talent is not the key to success.  Then, what is? Luck, timing. But the only factor we can have an effect on is the numbers.

The thing is, us creative types don’t want to be sidetracked by numbers. Math is not exciting (unless you’re my brother.  He loves it). It’s exact. It’s finite. There is nothing creative about it. One and one will always equal two. There’s no creative way around it. We are turned off because it is drudgery; it is boring. But here’s the beauty in it—get your numbers right, and anyone can succeed at this. That’s a bold statement, but I am sticking with it.  ANYONE.  Talent is extra. If you have talent, you can possibly become even more successful.

Do you know the key to Warren Buffet’s success? I do. I’ve read almost all the books on him. Was he smart, yes, but he was a working guy who took the numbers seriously. Math. Now he’s one of the richest men in the world.

Here’s my story, my tale of woe that led me to math as a solution. My second and third YA/Paranormal novels, Boyfriend From Hell and Earth Angel became Amazon Children’s and YA bestsellers early in 2012. Both books were in the top 10 at the same time. The only other author in my genre with more than one book in the top 10 was Suzanne Collins with her The Hunger Games trilogy. I got lots of attention.

Like many authors, I thought I’d made it.  I sold 400-500 books every month without a promotion.  When I promoted the books I sold in the thousands. I assumed it would only get better. I remember having lunch with a (then new) thriller author. He told me he’d only sold 500 books.  I said: ‘Yeah, me, too. I’m having an off month.” He said “No. I’ve only sold 500 books total.” I thought “Hmm, maybe his book is not that good.” Cocky. 

I was doing what many indie authors were doing at the time. I’d lower my price to 99 cents and promote my books on BookBub. There’d be a spike during the promotion. I’d raise the price back to where it was before the promo, and there’d be a tail.  This is where the book continues to sell even at the regular price. The tail usually lasted two to three weeks.   And then, almost overnight, the tail went from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 days. At the same time, BookBub was growing their business. With more quality authors to draw from, I was no longer guaranteed a BookBub promo every month.

I began promoting my books on more and more sites to poorer and poorer results. By 2014 I’d gone from an author who made a living as a writer, to an author who was throwing more and more money away at bad promos with worse results.

In my life, I have been pretty good at business. This is not to brag, but I have made millions of dollars. But for some reason, the same business acumen I applied to the rest of my life was missing when I got creative.

At the end of a dismal 2014 I had a come to Jesus sitdown with myself. I asked myself a key question: “Are you ready to turn pro?” Was I ready to go from being another writer with an amateur attitude to being a serious minded professional? I knew it was going to take work—a lot of it. I also knew I had to reeducate myself.

We authors are infuriated by traditional (legacy) publishers who won’t accept our manuscripts, or when they do, they won’t promote them. Guess what?  Their dismissal of us isn’t personal (although it feels that way to us) it’s, as the Godfather would say, “It’s just business.”
Stop worrying about getting their approval.  They are in a different business than we are.  It’s strange, because it seems like we’re in the same business, but we are not. The business they’re in versus the business we’re in is a topic for another post. 

Here’s what I did once I decided to turn pro:

·    *   I spent the money to take four excellent marketing courses. Two of the courses were specific to books. I studied hard.
·    *   I began implementing the strategies I learned in May 2015
·    *   In May, my mailing list had 164 subscribers.  Now, it has nearly 2000 subscribers. I’m getting there.
·    *   My novel Boyfriend From Hell (first book in a series) was made free summer 2014. It had 11,000 downloads. Good. The summer of 2015 we did the same thing with much better results: over 25,000 downloads. BFH reached top 10 overall ranking in the free store, something I’d never had a sniff at before, and the #1 Teen Horror ranking. Since June, BFH is rarely out of the top 20 in teen horror. Right now BFH is ranked #12 Teen Horror with no promotion.

All of my books are selling—not great, yet. I am not in profit, but I have no big losses, either. I no longer participate in poor performing promos.  How can I tell the difference before I plunk down my money?  That’s a topic for another post.

I am (finally) building my business. As a startup, growing profits and growing your business may not be the same thing. We writers complain when we run a promo and it doesn’t turn into a profit.  How many millions did Goolge burn through before they made a profit and became… Google? All startups must spend money to grow their business. You and I aren’t only authors, we are also startup businesses. You MUST invest to grow your business. What’s the difference between spending money wisely, and throwing money away—MATH.

Want to know how I turned my business around?  How I am on track to making a profit in 2016, and breaking into the $100,000 club by 2018? Here’s a better question: are you ready to turn pro?  Then, join me. For now, just follow the blog here, and I will share what I’ve learned—what works, and why it works. I will post again in a week or so.  Remember, I am a working writer. If you have questions, ask them here, and I will answer them as quickly as I can.  If you discover this post six months or a year from now, and you have a question, it is never too late to ask.  I’d like to keep you from making many of the mistakes I did.

Stop being a writer who says “I’m just happy being published.” No, you’re not. Don’t you want to earn a living with your writing?  Let me know if you are ready to turn pro.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Sal Conte Rides Again!

As some of you know, when I was in college (a long, long time ago, but that's a story for another day) I wrote two horror novels I was lucky enough to get published. The books turned out to be horror classics: Child's Play and The Power.  The books were published by Dorchester Publishing under their Leisure paperback imprint.  I wrote the books under the pseudonym Sal Conte. After college, Sal went into retirement (or as he likes to say, I tried to kill him) and I got on with my career of writing for television.

But as Sal also likes to say "You can't keep a dead man down," and Sal is now back with new horrific thrills for you. Sal has released a brand new short story: Because We Told Her To. The early reviews are in and it seems Sal hasn't lost a step.  One reviewer called the new story CREEPTASTIC! another said: This story will leave you with chills down your spine.

Help me celebrate the return of Sal Conte by popping over to the story's Amazon page, reading the  five star reviews and grabbing a copy for yourself.  It's less than a buck, 99cents.  You can do that here: Because We Told Her To

I know some of you need a bit more persuading before plunking down your hard earned cash.  No problem, I've recorded a short audio excerpt from the book to entice you further.  Give a listen, and if that doesn't win you over, you've got no soul.

Seriously, if you like good horror, you'll soon be warning all your horror-loving friends to look out for The Twitter Sisters.  Go on, now.  Give a listen and then grab your copy.  I thank you, and Sal Conte does, too.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Happy Endings

I’m a sucker for a happy ending.  When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Silver Linings Playbook, are among my all-time favorite movies.  I think we’re all suckers for happy endings because we all like to know that no matter how bad things can be they can always work out in the end. 

But there’s a darker side of me, a side I don’t like to tap into very often.  That side says no matter how hard you try, no matter how good your intentions, things are going to go to crap in the end.  This darker side of me is author, Sal Conte.  Like me, Sal is a good yarn spinner, with a good sense of humor, but that’s where the comparisons end.  Sal is one dark SOB.

Sal has a new short story coming out on April 3rd, and I’m beating the drum for you to come out and support him.  Thousands upon thousands of you have read and enjoyed The Falling Angels Saga.  Boyfriend From Hell alone had more than 10,000 downloads last year.  That’s awesome and I appreciate it, but today I’m asking you to support the dark side of my brain—Sal Conte.  The new story, Because We Told Her To, is only 99 cents and from what my beta readers are telling me, it’s one helluva read.  Worth every penny. If you’re a fan of mine, please become a fan of Sal Conte as well.

I even recorded an audio excerpt to entice you over to the book's Amazon Page.  You can listen to the excerpt here:

Unlike in Silver Linings Playbook, Sal can’t promise you a happy ending.  But he can promise you a satisfying read.  In some ways that’s even better because it’s a promise he can keep.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Creating Engaging Characters

When I read many of the self-published novels that proliferate today’s literary landscape, one glaring flaw that jumps out at me is the lack of character development.  Many newbie authors spend much of their time on the plot not realizing that plot should always be secondary to character.  Plot, to me, is like a car, while character is the driver.  You need the driver to get the car where you want it to go--where you want to go.  It’s the driver’s choices that make the trip pleasurable or harrowing.  The car is just the vehicle.
I noted for a fantasy writer recently that in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, it isn’t elves, and orcs and ring wraiths that make the story so engaging—it’s Frodo’s moral dilemma, or what I call his moral conundrum that propels the story forward.  When Frodo comes to realize the responsibility he’s been entrusted with the ring, he doesn’t want it.  It’s the weight of this and how he handles this and other responsibilities that really moves the story along.  It’s not the plot, but the characters choices that makes The Lord of The Rings so engaging.

In Stephen King’s The Shining, Jack Torrance surmises his family (wife, Wendy and son, Danny) are the reason he’s in the position he’s in—a broke, struggling, alcoholic writer.  Taking the job at the Overlook is Jack’s desire to fix his life, but his secret belief that his family is the reason for his woes (his conundrum) eats at him until it finally brings him down. Yes, Danny’s ability to see ghosts who might harm him scares the hell out of us, but it’s his father’s moral conundrum that propels the story along.

If you’re a newbie writer, or even a seasoned vet who may have forgotten, characters and their choices are the key to creating engaging work. It’s great having a Ferrari (plot) but without a good driver (character) it’s just another car.

Monday, February 16, 2015

My Brother, My Muse

Yesterday I talked with my older brother on the phone.  We talk just about every Sunday.  He and his family live in Virginia, while I live here in Southern Cal.  3000 miles has not kept us from remaining close. Growing up in New York City, my brother was an awesome big brother--annoying as hell much of the time, yet there was something solid about him that helped keep me grounded.  Yes, "solid" is the best word I can use to describe him.  You always knew what you got with my big brother.  He unashamedly marched to the beat of his own drummer.  When we were at the age where no one wanted to stick out for fear of being made fun of, my brother stuck out.   When all the kids wore Converse or Pro-Keds he wore what kids laughingly called skips.

I remember one time, back in the day, when sneakers were either black or white, my brother got a pair of red sneaks.  You couldn't help but notice them.  Kids may have laughed at my brother--I may have even laughed at him--but never to his face.  No one made fun of my brother. No one!  He received much respect for not being goaded or ridiculed into backing down from the things he liked. I was amazed at how comfortable he was in his own skin back then.  That comfort helped shape me, helped teach me not to be ashamed.  I don't know where Leonard Adolphus Van Lowe got it from, but I'm glad he had it.

A.D., the at times sinister, ghostly character in my up-coming novel, The Secrets of Love and Death was written with my brother in mind.  A.D., the first two letters of my brother's middle name. The book in some ways is a love letter to him.  Growing up, my brother was among my best friends. Over the next few weeks, I'll be talking more and more about him and about the new book.  I had a wonderful childhood because of him, and in the new book I hope to share some of that feeling with you. It is a romantic horror story, so I'll just be sharing SOME of that feeling, as my main goal is to keep you entertained. The cover art is currently being designed.  I will keep you posted about that as well.   I also have an audio clip I plan to share with you soon.

I hope you'll stay tuned for my journey to the publication of my next novel, The Secrets of Love and Death.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What's In A Name? We Shall Soon Find Out

In Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In the scene, Juliet is telling Romeo not to be hung up on names.  That may be true if you're a Capulet who has fallen in love with a Montague.  However, in titling your book, the name you choose can waylay your good efforts before they have a chance to get any recognition.  I'm not saying your title is the key to your book's success.  But just like professional looking artwork, and a snappy book blurb, your title is an important tool in getting your book sampled.  Titles may not matter to some people, but unless you already have a large following, your title is an important marketing tool.

I'm saying this now because after much haranguing over title ideas, my good friend and publisher (Chris Meeks of White Whisker Books) and I have settled on a title for my latest book.  I think it's a good title.  I think it's a very good title.  I'd come up with it over a year ago, but not for this book.  I had been sitting on it to use in my Hollyweird series.  I'm not great at coming up with titles, so when I do come up with a good one, I save it, even if I don't have a work to go with it just yet.

I don't think very many indie authors spend enough time on titling their works.  I see many new books with the same title as three or four other books--some in the same genre.  To me, this is a no-no. Unless your book is part of an ongoing series, I think it should have a unique title.  If you're not sure if your title is unique, just type your prospective title into Amazon.  If you see it's already been used, and used in the past few years, I think you should move on. I didn't know this back when I wrote Never Slow Dance With A Zombie.  I was new to the game, but I knew I wanted a fun, interesting title.  It took me over a year to come up with that title, and when the publisher (Tor) heard it, they new it was perfect. Many readers have told me the title alone has prompted them to pick up the book. Occasionally, I've seen in reviews, where readers have said they didn't like the book.  At least I got them to try it.  After that it's out of my hands.

Another thing about that title is if you go to Amazon and type in the words Never Slow.. my title will pop up.  There's nothing even close.  The title is not only provocative.  It's unique.  A year after my second YA novel, Boyfriend From Hell came out, another book with the same title came out. I was so upset, but there was noting I could do about it, aside from complain to my publisher. Even though I was first to market with the title, you cannot copyright a title. Fortunately, since my book is the most popular with the title, it shows up first. My advice to authors is to spend more time coming up with unique and provocative titles.  It may take more time to bring your book to market, but I think it's time well spent.

And now for the title of my new book. It was formerly called The Memory Giver.  I liked the title, but I had my suspicions it wouldn't stick.  It was unique, but not provocative enough. The new title is. Drum roll, please: The Secrets of Love and Death.  I hope you like it.  It's dead-on perfect for my new book, a romantic-horror-thriller.  And if you type it into Amazon, nothing comes up.  At least, not yet.  Is it a good title??? We'll soon find out.

If you'd like to read a little bit of the book (the fully edited version will be out summer, 2015), several chapters are available now on Wattpad under the old title, The Memory Giver.  Just click on the link.  I hope you enjoyed this post, I hope you like my title, and I hope you'll give my latest book a try. Thanks.  Peace.

Keep Reading-Keep Writing!