I’m not King

If you’ve published a book, you’ve probably found yourself asking “Why isn’t my book selling?”

Heck, let’s just be real here. If you’re independently published or even lounging under the umbrella of the Big 6, you’ve most definitely asked that question.

Oh, c’mon! Of course you have. We all have.

In this vast ocean of pages and ink and black pixels on white, Why isn’t my book selling? is the bond that links us, all of us — rich, poor, newbie, old salt, superstar, anonymous hack –, together.

And if you haven’t wondered Why isn’t my book selling?, well, let me be the first to welcome you, Mr. King. Or is that you, JK? Mr. Patterson? In any case, Hello!!! Glad you could drop by.

Any-hoo …

Trudging your way out of NoSales Desert isn’t always an easy thing. And, in the end, the answer to your How the Heck Do I Get Out of Here may not be up to you anyway. I’m as proactive as the next guy, but sometimes the What of what has to happen isn’t a Something you can do.

I mean, there are the usual culprits to look at first. The inevitable chaff to separate from your literary wheat. Your formatting sucks or your writing isn’t what it could be or your cover throws people off or the lack of reviews makes potential readers skittish or your price is way, way too high or, swimming in a sea of millions, people just don’t know you exist yet and you’re still stuck believing that somehow the book will magically market itself.

It could be any one of those things. And those are things you can fix. Sometimes.

What you can’t fix is Time.

Someone once said to me that a good book — a really good book with great writing and professional formatting offered at an appropriate price with a cover that is genre specific and really pops — takes a solid 6 months to a year to find its audience.

Yep, six months to a year. If you’re lucky.

Do some writers bolt out of the gate and become overnight sensations? Sure, if by “overnight” you mean a couple years spent building a readership on fan-fiction sites or laboriously crafting an online platform for the past three years via their blogs and websites and social media.

But most of us aren’t that prescient — or smart –, so instead of working our already strong internet presence, we spend the first several months wondering where in the heck we went wrong.

Which is where the second piece of advice from this very wise Someone comes in.

Instead of waiting for your book to sell, obsessing over the big, fat 00 on your sales chart, and wondering when it’ll get better, write.

That’s right.

Write.

His point, this Wise Someone of whom I speak, was that writers with more than one book tend to sell more. As if somehow readers feel more likely to commit to an unknown if they see the journey has the potential to continue past that first book. Furthermore, he insisted, books in a series tend to attract readers who prefer, well, reading series. They’ll buy one and then another and another until the end. And then look for your next one. If your work is good, of course.

I guess the point of this rambling missive is this:

You’re a writer, so write. Don’t worry about sales. Don’t worry about your plummeting ranking. Don’t woulda, coulda, shoulda yourself to death. It is what it is.

Just write.

If it means writing another book, write another book. I think every writer has more than one in them. You should by all means offer as much as you can to potential readers. If they like what you do in one, the chances are great they’ll follow through with your next.

So, get busy. Type The End, publish the book, open a new document, type Chapter One, lather, rinse, repeat.

If it means writing on a blog, go for it. In this day and age, the more readers interact with you, the better. For some, having a glimpse behind the Chapter Headings and discovering an opportunity to talk with the author of a book they’re considering reading could be a key selling point that tips it in your favor. Or slamming out a guest post on someone else’s site. Abso-frigging-lutely. Brilliant. Being a part of a community never hurts. And, again, the more who know you exist, the better.

Whatever can draw more eyes to your work, that’s what you want to do.

Besides, anything is better than looking at those double doughnuts on your sales chart, right?

Why I Rock

What’s this? A Guest Post on someone else’s blog?

Yep.

So head on over and find out Why I (and every other Indie Writer) Rocks.

I don’t hate you

If you’ve visited in the past few days, you probably think I have some irrational, uncontrollable hatred or animosity or something for Legacy Publishing aka the Big 6 or Traditional Publishing.

Granted, this rant and that bit of angry hoo-how would certainly give you that idea.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t HATE Traditional Publishing.

Really! I don’t!

Without them, I would have grown up without books. Without them, my imagination would have floundered. Without them, my creativity would have withered and died. Without them, I would not be who I am and where I am.

And, without them, there’d be no vanity press, no online publishing, no self-publishing via Amazon.

In fact, in many ways, Traditional Publishing is the parent of Self-Publishing.

A distant, unloving, hyper-critical, potentially abusive parent. But a parent nonetheless.

The anger I feel toward the Big 6 has more to do with their apparent attitude toward self-published authors than it does with who they are or how they operate, even, ostensibly, through surrogates. (cough) NY Times (cough)

Listen, it’s one thing to be rejected by a Publisher. Happens all the time. No big whoop.

It’s another thing to have those at the Big 6 not want you to publish PERIOD.

It seems like it’s no longer enough to ignore you outright or have an intern toss a rejection letter/email your way. Now they have to bludgeon, bloody, and belittle what’s becoming a strong cornerstone of an increasingly viable industry.

From questioning the quality of the work and the work ethic of the authors to throwing doubt on the veracity of the reviews, it looks as if Legacy Publishers are hell bent on destroying self-pubbed authors.

Why?

Is the royalty check I’m getting this week — my own version of “One small step for my bank account, one … giant leap for my bruised Writer’s ego” — really that much of a threat to their bottom line? Is the fact that ANYONE can publish and, therefore, the Big 6 no longer decides who does and doesn’t end up in Readers’ hands killing them that much? Do they so desperately need to be The Gatekeepers that they’ll stoop to staining the collective reputations of authors who, collectively, are hardly a threat to their more established Superstars?

Why? (I ask again)

Listen, I understood early on that what I write — my story about a haunted immortal desperate for redemption lacking vampires and werewolves and wizards and a clean, easy fit in the YA genre — wasn’t what New York was looking for. That’s why I didn’t submit it.

As I said in the Comments to this great Post over on Carl Purdon’s blog, I could spend years perfecting a query letter to land an agent and then try to get published — which could be several more years — OR I could self-publish and spend that time building an audience and writing more books.

That Legacy Publishers would seem to have a problem with that is, frankly, confusing.

That they’d apparently take fairly overt steps to diminish us is what angers me.

So, I don’t really have a problem with Traditional Publishers per se. As long as they let me do what I want to do, why would I?

All I ask is they give us self-publishers the same respect and allow us the chance to find our Readers.

At the end of the day, the Publishing World is a vast, endless ocean. I’m sure there’s room enough for everyone.

Isn’t there?

Lunch is on me

An Open Letter to the NY Times:

In a recent article — The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy by David Streitfeld –, you insinuate quite strongly that the 4- and 5-star reviews one finds for self-published authors on sites like Amazon cannot be trusted to accurately represent the work or the writer’s talent because there are companies out there that sell favorable reviews and, due to the possibility of a potential relationship between the Reviewer and the “Reviewee”, these reviews should be ignored or mistrusted.

Are there writers, like John Locke, who admit to purchasing reviews? Yes.

Do they perhaps help lift sales? Some would say yeah, they could.

Is this a well-known aspect of Marketing 101 that those at the Times are well aware of? Of course.

Does the fact that a company like this could exist and do business negate every single review a self-published author has ever gotten? It damn well shouldn’t.

Let me ask you this, NY Times:

How many times have your Reviewers had lunch with someone from a Big 6 Publisher right before receiving the free review copy of Star Author’s next book? Or even after a favorable review ran? How many times have your Reviewers received Thank You notes from Legacy Publishers for good reviews? Or birthday cards? Holiday cards? Phone calls? Gift baskets stuffed with expensive trinkets as a gesture of their appreciation?

How many times have those at the NY Times found themselves mingling at parties with those from Traditional Publishing? And how many NY Times Reviewers found their reviews edited by Higher Ups in order to cast a kinder, more ecstatic light on Star Author’s new opus?

More importantly, how many self-published books has the NY Times officially reviewed?

If none, why not?

If you’re going to write an article all but suggesting the reviews a self-published book receives should be discounted because of the potential for some kind of nefarious collusion between the Reviewer and the Reviewed, please be aware this may — and should — bring into question the veracity of your own Reviewers and the often cozy relationship you hold and have held for years with those obviously feeling most threatened by self-published authors: the Big 6.

So remember that the next time Mr. Publisher gulps down the last of his chardonnay, whips out his Black Amex, smiles, and says “Lunch is on me”.

Big 6 babies

Self-published authors are making gains. Ebooks are now a solid 20% of book sales on Amazon. Money is being made hand over fist and, let’s face it, it’s no longer flying by default into the pockets of Legacy Publishing.

And the Big 6 are now officially running scared.

How do I know?

Check out this article in today’s NY Times.

It’s about a company, now defunct, that sold glowing reviews to self-published authors including John Locke. And about how these glowing reviews drove sales even though the reviews were bought and paid for and written by people who admitted to having never read the book. And it’s sorta about how this is a common practice with self-published authors.

But it’s actually more than that. A lot more.

It’s really about the veracity of online reviews in general. And, more specifically, online reviews for self-published books.

So, that 5-star review your new release just got? The one from someone you don’t know and have never heard of? The one that, like, totally, completely made your week and lifted you out of your funk and drove you to write five more chapters for your next book?

The NY Times — which refuses to review self-published work, by the way — claims it was bought and paid for and not to be trusted. And so now potential readers will doubt it. And they should (says the Times).

How devastating could this be for self-pubbed authors like me? For people who DON’T use services like that — ’cause they do exist — because, frankly, self-pubbed authors like me don’t sell enough books to afford it?

Very.

It could be cataclysmic.

Needless to say there was no mention of the cozy relationship between Big Publishing and the NY Times. No doubting the veracity of the Times reviews for Big Name Author’s latest work. No questioning at all the quiet need for a publication like the Times to kneecap self-publishing by throwing doubt over one of the industry’s — not just self-publishing, but the INDUSTRY’S — most powerful marketing tools.

Nope, we self-pubbers evidently can’t get an honest review. They need to be purchased with cold, hard cash.

Well, fuck ’em.

My Martuk has 14 reviews on Amazon, many of them 5-stars, that I treasure. A couple are from friends, a couple more are from beta readers, and a few more are from fellow authors. The rest are strangers. And ALL of them have read the book. If it’s someone I know, I refuse to let them offer anything unless they’ve read it cover-to-virtual-cover. Why? Because it’s a damn good book. I’m confident about that.

Wounded King has three reviews. One fellow author, one beta reader, one reviewer I don’t know. All read the book.

The Elder. No reviews. Not yet. It’s new.

That the NY Times now wants potential readers to look at that feedback and those thoughts with suspicion just sickens and infuriates me.

But it also tells me the Big 6 are scared. Really scared. And if all they’ve got are cheap tactics like this, they should be.

Now I’m off to work on the sequel to Martuk. Seems like the best way to piss ’em off is to keep writing and self-publishing.

And to keep getting honest reviews from grateful Readers who will never be bought and paid for.

Does the cream really rise?

This fascinating article by Carl Purdon is worth a read. The Crib Notes version is his assertion that, although the market is awash in a sea of poorly written books by well-intentioned, ambitious self-pubbed authors (he used different words, but that’s the gist), the cream will rise to the top.

But is that true?

I’m not sure.

I think it could be, perhaps. Carl has several links to truly outstanding books that are fantastic reads and absolutely worthy of their success and subsequently high Amazon rankings. But there are other authors with equal success and equally high rankings that, in my opinion, aren’t very good.

In fact, in some cases, they’re embarrassingly bad.

So was their success because of their talent for writing? Were these books the cream that rose? Or was it more a matter of marketing prowess and the proclivity of people to follow the herd and buy what their friends are buying.

Well, in a world of Present Tense, dialogue tags, and one-dimensional characters, I’d say yeah, I think so.

If that is the case, where does that leave those with very, very good books, but little to no publicity, the absence of a platform, and very little blog support?

Dog paddling in a sea of drivel, I suppose.

But Carl makes another point in this article which I think could be the Unknown Author’s Saving Grace.

You see, the Big 6 are driven by marketing data. They know what’s selling, they track what’s selling, they’re obsessed with what’s selling and, being all about the Bottom Line, they focus exclusively on that. So, if you’re a huge fan of paranormal romance novels where a teenage girl is probably caught in some sort of love triangle with, I don’t know, a hottie Vampire and maybe a hunky Werewolf or something, well, you’ll find mountains of joy waiting for you at the New Release shelf in your local brick-and-mortar.

Or, as I call it, the Land of Interchangeable Voices Retelling Familiar Tales Already Told.

If you’re searching for writing with a strong unique voice and, oh, let’s say a story centered around a tortured Immortal seeking redemption and release, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Maybe here? (forgive the plug, but it is my blog)

In any case, it’s a good point to make. Self-pubbed authors — and I can only speak for myself, really — don’t follow the Flavor of the Month because oftentimes we’re so busy writing we don’t have time to track what the Flavor of the Month IS. We just write. We tell our stories, we create our worlds, and we put it out there trusting someone will share our passion and hear our voice.

And our voices ARE unique. They’re not tamed by marketing concerns, reined in by Projected Sales Goals, or shaped by Editors insisting we follow Rules. Our voices aren’t afraid of offending or gun-shy at the prospect of disappointing sales and a lifetime spent bundled in the bargain bin or paranoid by the loss of readers.

More often than not, there aren’t any readers to lose!

So we just write what drives us, allowing the characters to speak and live and stumble and sometimes die. We edit it, we shape it, we polish and package and format it. And then we publish it.

Circling back to the beginning, does the cream rise to the top? If you’re farmland milk fresh out of an udder, yeah. Given time.

If you’re a great story well told, I’m gonna roll the dice and say yes, too.

Given time.