Friday, June 17, 2011

Notice to Appear

Once upon a time, years ago, there was a crazy author who spent a lot of time, money, and energy visiting forty different states in the US.

He signed at over 1200 bookstores.

He spoke at over a hundred libraries.

He attended dozens of conventions and conferences.

He went to many book fairs and literary festivals.

He spoke at schools and universities.

In short, he did what he felt he needed to do in order to succeed. Namely, meet as many people as possible, handsell books, and spread his brand.

It cost lots of money to do this. Lots of money and lots of time.

As a result, all of his books are still in print, while many of his peers (who didn't do as much) went out of print.

These days, he does very few appearances. He doesn't speak in public. He doesn't travel.

Yet he's still selling well. Better than he ever sold before.

So are appearances still worthwhile?

Have they ever been worthwhile?

One of the things about being a writer is knowing that in order to continue writing, you have to sell books. Because of this, many writers try to do things in order to boost sales. Some buy ads. Some have contests. Some blog. Some tweet. Some use Facebook. Some give away stuff.

Some make public appearances.

I've always believed that face-to-face time is valuable, and that there is no better salesperson for my book than me. But I never considered myself a salesman. I considered myself an ambassador, spreading information and good will. Often I taught what I learned. Sometimes I got paid, but mostly I dished out money for travel and hotels and convention fees.

And because of this, I've sold more books than I would have if I hadn't done anything at all.

That's the key. Doing something will help you sell more than doing nothing.

But for every book sale, there is a cost to pay.

The cost, of course, if both the monetary cost of travel, and the time cost of making an appearance.

Not too many writers openly talk about the costs involved in self-promotion, though all do it in some form or another. There is a reason for this.

Because all of us are failing. At least, when it comes to tangible returns on investments.

Writing is a solitary profession. But we need people (readers) in order to continue to write. So we try our best to find these readers, and appearances are one way to do this.

A damn expensive way.

I was just at the Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. The cost to me was $25 for parking, $10 for gas, and five hours of time.

I sold about a dozen books (paperbacks), and the royalties totaled $7.68.

So my personal appearance left me in the red almost thirty bucks, not counting the five hours I could have spent writing.

Walking the fair, I saw many of my peers, none of them doing any better than I did. Some traveled from out of state to attend. Some dished out major bucks and bought their own tables.

That's a lot of time and money for a few dozen sales.

Rewind to Bouchercon 2010, the biggest mystery con of the year. I attended, but not as an author. I'd just begun my hiatus from public appearances, and I wanted to hang out with my friends without the pressure of having to be "on."

Some authors sold a few dozen books. Most didn't even come close to that. Considering the hotel was $199 a night, and travel to San Francisco isn't cheap, I wouldn't be surprised if some writers were in the red several thousand dollars.

So why do we keep doing this? Why do we invest so much for so little in return?

Here are my thoughts.

1. We feel as if we have to do something. Doing nothing means asking for failure. So even if the costs of doing something far exceed the sales we make, at least we can say we tried.

2. There is a bit of peer pressure and "go with the crowd" mentality. Gathering together with fellow authors is a cathartic experience. We're all in the same boat, and to see others doing what we're doing makes us feel better about what we're doing, even if it is ineffective.

3. We count on intangible benefits. Even if a bestseller goes on tour, they're losing money. Pretend a big shot sells 100 hardcovers at an appearance. That's $300 in royalties--not even close to the cost of plane fare, hotel, and an escort. But meeting a fan once can make a fan for life, befriending booksellers can help your titles sell for years, and giving a good talk could help spread word of mouth, selling many more books than were signed. This can't be gauged, however.

4. We think this will be the "big one" where we sell in huge numbers. And big ones do occasionally happen. Unfortunately, there's no way to know which appearances will be worthwhile and which won't.

5. There's an ego aspect to appearances, especially at the beginning of a career. We want to make fans. We want to sign books. We want to hear how people enjoyed our writing. Having someone hug you and say they love you is a heady experience.

But eventually, like all good things that became spoiled once dollar signs were attached to them, dealing with fans becomes work. It's good work if you can get it, but it has diminishing returns that increase the more fans you acquire.

I do very few appearances these days. And it hasn't hurt my career.

While I don't advocate doing nothing, and I stand by my original position that the more you do, the more you'll sell, I've come to realize that one person, no matter how hard they try, can't make themselves a bestseller. Luck always plays a part.

The harder you work, the luckier you tend to get. But there comes a point where you can spend too much time trying to promote old work, when you'd be better served writing new work. That point can vary, book to book, person to person. But it is something to be aware of.

So next time someone asks to to speak someplace, or when the yearly convention sends you an email asking to attend, try to weight the pros and cons before automatically saying yes. Because while you will sell more books, it will probably come at too high a cost.


Jimmie Hammel said...

It sounds similar to the music industry. The band creates an album and then tours to promote it, generally for about 9 months, then it's back to the studio.

What kinds of appearances would even be possible with indie publishing?

Ender Chadwick said...

Humbling words. As always, you've given me something to think about.

Cyn Bagley said...

Hi Joe,
Yea, I think that when I was well, it was one of my dreams to be able to autograph my books for fans. Well, I got sick and have to stay isolated so the public appearances are not in my bookselling bag of tricks.

Thankfully we have the internet, social networking sites, and other places to talk to people. On the other side, I spend too much time there and not enough time writing.

Thanks for the insight.

Candice L Davis said...

I am now thoroughly depressed! Okay, not reall, but d@mn. It does seem like it's all a bit of a crapshoot, and I've never been particularly lucky.

I have a traditionally pubbed book coming out in the fall of next year. (I'm just the co-writer, so I won't be doing any speaking.) I also have 4-5 indie pubbed books I'll get out this year. I'm afraid I'll have to spend more time marketing than writing.

Mark Feggeler said...

Same thing happens in the hospitality industry. You see companies spendng tens of thousands at shows you know full well will not yield an equitable return. Also, particularly in regards to sales, too many people believe keeping busy is the same as being productive.

A good marketing plan should never be built around immediate expectations.

Gary Ponzo said...

I get your point, however, you can't quantify an appearance with readers by simply figuring out your hotel fees, then deducting your profit and coming up with lost revenue. That's too myopic.

When you develop that one-on-one relationship with a reader, they tend to become fans. Fan is derived from the word fanatic. Every time you create a fan, it's someone who's willing to spread their fanaticism to other readers. How many? Who knows, but I'm willing to bet there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of fans of yours who have never even been to this blog. They're in a suburb of Chicago or Milwaukee and don't go to blogs, or even browse the web, but they're telling friends about your books and they're even shoppping at bookstores looking for some new novel of yours. Maybe even buying Kindles just to read more of your work.

So I wouldn't dismiss the appearance aspect to selling your brand--"better known as your name." Because if people find you engaging, maybe even genuinely sincere, they can become fans--and . . . well, I've already covered the fan theory.

James said...

I spent several years working in a Borders store (long before they went to pot), and helped with a lot of author appearances. As a librarian, now, I deal with at least a few of them a year. In fact, we just had one two weeks ago.

Even back in the early 90s, when I was at the bookstore, I thought that most author appearances were a waste of time and money, for everyone involved. The only authors who drew significant crowds were the ones who were already big names, the ones who did an interesting presentation related to the topic of their book (generally non-fiction), or those who had written a book that had very strong regional appeal (typically non-fiction). The rest just sat at a table, chit-chatted with the few people who wandered up, and were lucky if they sold a handful of books. This was almost always the case, even if their appearance had been heavily advertised.

Because of this, the only authors I ever have speak at our library are those who have strong regional appeal (such as a local history writer), have a reputation for doing great presentations on interesting and timely topics, or come with their own audiences.

The last one we had fell into the last two categories, and we paid him to appear (along with his travel expenses). That's not something we do often, but he has done an exceptional job of creating a very strong and long-term fan base, many of whom turn up at his appearances.

In the end, though, writers are a dime a dozen, when it comes to their willingness to show up for signings and such. There are a ton of people out there who have written and published one or two books. In the absence of a fascinating presentation or strong regional interest, fame is what draws readers to author appearances. If you have the fame already, though, you don't necessarily need to spend the time and money to make a lot of appearances.

From what I have seen, the most important thing is for writers to spend most of their time writing, rather than running around the country. Fan communities are much easier to build online, through blogs and websites and other means.

Unknown said...

Everything comes at a cost, Joe. Time, money, and priorities. As a writer, we can only do so much. I am just starting out with only one eBook to date, but I feel that life is more important than simply selling books. I want to enjoy the journey—and still have a life. Being a great dad is more important to me, for example, than being a well-recognized, bestselling writer. That’s one of my own priorities.

If it comes at a cost of selling less books or no book—so be it!We must choose every day. I hope your own journey means more to you than selling another novel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Carolynp said...

OK, I comment once again from the non-writer perspective. Most of the folks I know are busy. I know I'm not alone as one of the odd ones who doesn't care to meet celebrities. Our lives are busy. Far too busy to spend waiting in line to get a signature on a piece of paper from anyone. When Rollins writes a book, I pre-order it. I usually can't put the thing down once I get it, but I'll be danged if I'd miss a little league game for a signature. I'd say I'm representative of a serious share of the populace. Mad love for good writers does not mean I have to share their political beliefs or be a dear friend or even have an eye to eye meeting with them. I guess this diatribe is to suggest that I agree to a greater extent. Maybe book signings are things of the past. Sure, it's nice to meet up with fans, but wouldn't it be cool if you had so few signed books that they were actually worth something? If Konrath had a book that he never signed except on rare occasion, then the ones you do sign matter that much more. OK, sorry to be so chatty.

Candace said...

I think that these days public appearances are completely unnecessary. If you like attending conferences and book signings, if you have the money to burn, go ahead. But if you don't have the money or inclination, there are plenty of ways to promote from home, for little to no cost besides your time.
I'm still a very green writer, and my tune might change later on in my career, but I'm not a big crowd type person, and I don't see my personality ever changing so drastically that I'll be clamoring to make appearances or attending conferences with any kid of regularity.

Lovelyn said...

I think blog tours and social media have taken the place of in-person appearances. That's a good thing for shy people like me. Most writers are introverts and feel more comfortable dealing with people online than in-person.

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

Anyone who goes to Bouchercon with the goal of selling books is going for the wrong reason.

The great value of visiting a bookstore is not to meet readers, but to meet the booksellers, who are your best deputies and ambassadors.

SBJones said...

I agree, if you are not a superstar or celebrity author, doing a signing tour outside of your area is expensive. Even if you are self published and pulling in a full royalty from the cover price minus the material cost $5-$10 a book it can add up quick in this $100 a night hotel $4 a gallon for gas economy.

I do think signings are an important part of branding yourself, it is something I would recommend people to do in their local area and state. I would not however recommend they spend big bucks at some convention without budgeting for it, but do not expect a positive return. Think of it like the luck factor. You are there to push and promote your book and hope HOPE something lucky happens and it goes big. But don't go expecting to sell 1000 books out of your car.

Gerard de Marigny said...

Good one Joe. I'm a newbie, just published my first novel in January, but I've worked in four other industries. Each one demanded different levels of 'public appearances' from sales calls in transportation/logistics to conferences in the financial industry to tours (I was a guitarist for a heavy metal band back in the day).

You raise THE question - one everyone in every industry asks. You know what, in my experience, if you're looking for direct return, I've found, the bigger the shindig, the more it costs and the less return you get!

In music, we made the most $$$ from the smaller (not smallest) venues - they cost us less in terms of travel and set up (roadies, transportation, etc.). Unless you're the headliner - you LOSE money on big tours!

In the other industries - it was also the same - it seemed the bigger the conference (or worse, convention), the more it cost us to be there and the less we had to show for it.

I've been successful and made money in every industry and business in which I worked/owned. It may sound cheap but - I've found that when it comes to marketing - yourself or your widgets (read: literary works), always aim to get the most with the least (pay in pesos, if possible)! Haha ...

Working my butt-ocks off now setting up my first blog tour - mostly only costs me the price of a dozen review copies and time (which is worth as much as I could make doing something else ... which is a lot). All in all though, a lot less costly than spending some zero's on a trip to NY for ITW.

p.s. I think the best marketing you did was on your video where you got blood all over your drapes ... and couch! Haha ...

Hey, like I told Sensei Dean, you and he always have a pint (or keg) poured for you in Las Vegas (I live here)... my buy! C",) If it weren't for you guys, I wouldn't be livin' my dream now!


Gerard de Marigny said...

b/t/w ... "Sensei Dean" is my name for Dean Wesley Smith ... 'cause I'm a devout follower of the "TAO of Dean Wesley Smith." (I keep telling him to write a book of that title).

forgot to mention who I was talkin' about in the last post ... starting my weekend a little early!

haha ...

Dustin Wood said...

So would a good rule of thumb for these sorts of things be, "If you were not a writer and would go anyway, proceed," or just be judicious in which ones you select to attend?

Erica Sloane - Author said...

Thanks for breaking that down so clearly, Joe.

It seems as though the one saving grace of appearances is creating a word-of-mouth network for promotion. But is that even necessary with blogs, messages boards, and even Amazon's "also bought" list?


Gayle Carline said...

This is why I don't travel for miles and miles and spend big bucks for tables, etc. I am doing local library events and festivals, that are either free or VERY inexpensive (less than $30 for a table space).

I'm not a big name, but I want the locals to say, "Gayle Carline? Oh, yes, I've heard of her." And then go look up my books on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Great post Joe. As a YA author I have found apperances have really helped generate sales. I had some great book signings, selling out as many as 70 books at one signing. The last signing for the second book in the series sold 25 books at Borders.
I agree that the money out hasn't equaled the money coming in but the YA market hasn't been tapped yet and the future will be there eventually.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club

Anonymous said...

Gary Ponzo summed it up pretty good.

I tend to agree with a lot of Joe's points, but I do believe there's something to be said for the ripple effect. You cultivate numerous relationships at these conferences, which creates followers of your work and their friends and family hear of you and so on...

Think of those 1980's shampoo commercials: you tell two friends and they'll tell two friends and they'll tell two friends and so on and so on...

In the end, chatting up a dozen people, selling ten books and leaving the conference in the red, could actually, over five to ten years, turn into hundreds of book sales.

Too hard to measure, but something to consider.

Think on these things.

Jonas Saul


After my last book signing recently at an area library, I came home to my wife and declared, "This is it. No more." The event was poorly organized. I sold four books. I wasted gas and valuable time (on a Sunday, no less).

I'm firmly in the camp of concentrating my outreach and marketing efforts online. Just the time I devote to blogging/Facebook/twitter, etc. eats up many hours, but I see results in my online (Kindle bestseller) sales. I'll be releasing my latest novel in a few days. I plan to do all my promotional efforts from my armchair with laptop flickering hypnotically in front of my pasty face. Then, I'm gonna switch programs and plow ahead with my WIP. No more library/bookstore/clubs/university,etc. appearances unless there is some overriding reason like doing a friend a favor.

W. Dean said...

I have to agree with James and Carolynp on the value of meet-and-greets with authors. I've never been to one. All the same, I will mention what I think are two exceptions to Joe’s rule.

1. Niche markets (e.g., graphic novels, some fantasy and sci-fi) don’t appear to operate in the same way that the mainstream markets do. I mean the demographic that buys thrillers, horror and detective stories is older and far less invested in their authors than the kind of books that generate a cult following. From what I’ve heard, you’re expected to show up and talk about your work. (Ironically, perhaps, the same seems to go for the other end of the spectrum as well: writers of literary fiction are expected to talk about their books).

2. The second exception is more meant to prove the rule. It’s always in the interest of academic authors to do public engagements. Young scholars especially benefit because that’s how you network with other scholars who share your interests and answer objections to your work. This is a money-losing proposition as well, but it can pay dividends if you land a job.

Now, I’m not raising #2 as an objection, because it is apples to oranges as far as commercial writing goes. I offer it because it’s a case where you can see the benefit of “touring” for an academic author far more clearly than you can see it for the fiction writer, who can expect to get none of these things from his endeavors.

To be honest, I’d always thought book signings were strictly for fans anyways.

I.J.Parker said...

How very nice to hear from the book store manager/librarian on this matter. I always had the feeling that I was "a dime a dozen" and an irritation they tolerated because a) the publisher has an agreement with the store, or b) library patrons like to see a bit of entertainment.
I do not do signings any longer. The only benefit accrues to the publisher; the only expenses fall to the author. Nobody really makes much money out of this. It doesn't work.
Book store owners may think you a very pleasant person, but they will not stock your books unless they sell like hot cakes.

Adam Pepper said...

I’ve been to many conferences over the years, met a lot of good folks (like Joe!) and enjoyed them for the most part. But have they helped my career? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. With the internet, there are many more cost effective (and just plain effective) ways to market and network. And most writers would probably be better served just focusing on the work.

PS: I do think Joe’s efforts have helped him, and he is a great public speaker. I for one, hope he picks his schedule back up at some point as he has a lot to offer.

JA Konrath said...

you can't quantify an appearance with readers by simply figuring out your hotel fees, then deducting your profit and coming up with lost revenue.

Actually, you can. That's the point.

I mentioned the intangible effects of an appearance, and they can help sell books well beyond the author has left the building.

But--and this is important--you can't quantify intangibles, so you can't judge the worthiness of an appearance hoping for an intangible to occur. Not that you could ever trace it back to the intangible to begin with.

I don't discount intangible benefits. But since they can't be counted on, and since you can't prove their effectiveness (even after the fact) then they can't be your main criteria when choosing appearances.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Just wondering how much you think you spent when you were doing your longer book tours? Say, if you were on the road for a month?



Anonymous said...

Two words:

Ray Bradbury

never gave singings, talk, etc. that I know of

Tim, horror & suspense said...

Great post. I'm always interested in the economics of being a writer. I enjoy your common sense!


Anonymous said...

Another incisive blog. I've always thought this works out best for the bookstores & the conferences. As Annie Proulx says, they (the colleges) are headhunting the big names for their benefit-they don't care about the writing at all.
Same goes for the very expensive conferences & seminars that "teach you how to pitch to agents." Ridiculous. Go the library-get on the intertnet.
Save thousands of dollars & stay home and write. Yeah, conferences can be fun. But I doubt it makes any difference in the quality of your story & your writing. Scam after scam, more likely.

Unknown said...

I was invited to do a book signing with several other self-published authors from my area. I was the only one whose book was only available as an ebook, and I couldn't see the point of spending money for the table and not have anything to actually sign. The group organizer suggested having bookmarks made up and signing those...only I still don't see the point of a bookmark for an ebook. This was last fall and most people I know still do not have an ereader of any kind. I figured people would get the signed bookmark, and it would go in the junk drawer--if I was lucky.

I realize most of my readers, at this time, are online, so that is where I try to 'meet' them.

TK Kenyon said...

Personally, I'm working on a blog of writing prompts for writers called Dr. Kenyon's Writing Apple, which is also on Facebook here. I'm trying to reach out to other writers, like you do with this blog.

I also traveled and spent my own dough to do so when my first two novels came out. It was a waste of time. Even with frequent-flier-miles and friends' couches, it still didn't come close to breaking even.

I'm still trying to figure out what does work, too.

In the meantime, fellow writers: Like me on Facebook or pick up an RSS/Atom feed for Dr. Kenyon's Writing Apple Blog.

TK Kenyon

John M said...

As a teacher who writes YA (High) Fantasy, I've followed the advice of a colleague and created a novel study unit that teachers can download for free from my website (and a smattering of educational/lesson plans sites around the net). If they want to read and study the book with their Language Arts/English classes (target grades: 7 to 9), they get a free, comprehensive unit that will save them a great deal of time and effort. It took me a lot of time to create the unit, but I only had to do it once. The benefits of having teachers ordering and replacing class sets of books will last much longer. It's a marketing approach that I hope will pay off.

J.G McKenney

John M said...

I just realized my comment (above) sounds like shameless self-promotion. My intention was to make a point in line with Joe's post: Be smart about how you invest your time; investments should pay dividends.

Gary Ponzo said...

I get your point Joe, scientifically you can't measure the residual benefit of your appearance, so consider the worthiness of you time accordingly. But don't discount the value of meeting your readers and getting to know what they like and don't like up close and personal. It's a balancing act, I agree.

Anonymous said...

I think it also has to do with planting a seed with the reader. If the reader has a choice in the future of picking up a book by an author they like AND they whom they have had a personal interaction with at a signing, 9 times out of 10, they will choose that author. At least that is what I do and I am more loyal to those authors that give back a little to their readers. Think of it as not only a short term investment, but a fan that will continue to support you for years to come, and most likely spread the word about your books.

Christina Garner said...

Great post as always, Joe. As an e-book author I've definitely wondered at the possible benefits of conferences and appearances. I'm trying instead to build an online network since that's where most of my potential customers are.

Rob Cornell said...

Two words:

Ray Bradbury

never gave singings, talk, etc. that I know of

Bradbury gave all sorts of talks and did many signings. I have met him several times and love to hear him speak. I have a few signed copies of his works, too. Dude is hilarious when he does talks.

As for the topic at hand, is the message not to bother with promotion? I thought, for indies at least, that the best promotion was more writing. After hitting the Twiiter the the Facebook pretty hard, I can't see much effect on my book sales, though I have made some friends. But the circles I end up in are all writers. It seems most of the promotion online is incestuous. Writers pimping to other writers.

I want to know how to get the word out to my readers. And appearances ain't it.

Rob Cornell
Author of Darker Things
Let the world you know meet the world you don't.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Events . . . never thought about them. I don’t have the time or money to waste. Why should I buy a batch of my own paperbacks, and then try to sell them? Others may find merit in events, and I wish them all the best of luck. Me, I flipped the coin over. Facebook and other social networks corralled me with other writers, thinking we have something in common, and we do. We want to sell our books to readers. Online has been a bust for me, so I rarely fool with it. Why bother. What I am doing, is finding readers, and they’re everywhere. Readers are now finding me. I’m getting my old material out, and I’m working on the new. I do market myself, but not online. I’m now having fun living my life, and still haven’t met another writer face to face. I’m meeting readers. You said it yourself, this isn’t a sprint. You can do everything, but don’t concentrate on what doesn’t work. I don’t make an ass out of myself, but sometimes crazy works. Plant those seeds where the ground is fertile.

Marie Simas said...

Do mid-listers really have crazy fans? I'm not asking to be an asshole. I really want to know, because I've never done a book signing. Do people line up outside the bookstore like they do for King or Rowling? If not, then maybe the cost benefit isn't really there.

Currently, my bestselling book is one that I did almost nothing to promote. Just saw the Kindle reports: 1,173 sold so far this month (single title).

In December, maybe Joe will let me do a guest post and I'll reveal all the sales numbers and all my magic tricks.

Just kidding. It really is just luck.

Anonymous said...

John M-Your idea sounds great. I am a teacher who also writes YA and created tecaher gudies based on national standards that are free to download off my web site. I just think that the YA market has yet to tapped by teachers or education as a whole. When they realize the cost effectiveness of using ereaders in the classroom then I believe a boom will occur.

Sean McCartney

The Treasure Hunters Club

Tara Maya said...

I have a long list of things I'd like to do, but I can't do all of them. I do what I can.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Anonymous said...

Same goes for the very expensive conferences & seminars that "teach you how to pitch to agents." Ridiculous. Go the library-get on the intertnet.
Save thousands of dollars & stay home and write. Yeah, conferences can be fun. But I doubt it makes any difference in the quality of your story & your writing. Scam after scam, more likely.

The possibility of a new writer selling their work does exist at such a conference, though it's completely incidental. So it's not a scam --- not exactly. I'd definitely consider it a huge waste of money, though, unless you also arrange to socialize with writer friends you rarely see.

These conventions are organized for agents, editors or publishers to talk to each other about material they're already pushing --- at a hotel room, pool, or bar that's paid for out of their expense account (or written off as a business expense).

The writers are invited because they usually fill enough rooms for hotels to charge low convention rates. The purpose of activities involving the writers is to keep the writers coming back in big numbers, ensuring cheap rooms for future conferences.

Melissa said...

I read that only 68 percent of Americans have a part- or full time job (U.S. Labor Board statistics). Pretty abysmal numbers. I do have a job as a writer, but I might not always have one. So I can’t afford to go to conferences and rub shoulders. Well, that’s not really true. I could take the money out of my savings account – the emergency fund that I’ve saved for medical emergencies and such – throw caution to the wind and beg my friends and family for money when my car breaks down or I need a root canal. Nope. Won’t do that.

It does seem unfair, to a degree, that only the writers and aspiring writers who can afford to go to conferences do go. This cuts a huge percent of the population out – and among those are possibly the very best at what they do, the hungry aspiring writers who spend weekend nights honing their craft instead of going to movies, concerts and dinners out.

James said...

>I always had the feeling
>that I was "a dime a dozen"
>and an irritation they
>tolerated because a) the
>publisher has an agreement
>with the store, or
>b) library patrons like
>to see a bit of entertainment.

Just to clarify, by "dime a dozen" I meant that there are a lot of people out there who have published one book, and made a little money off it, even if it was just a small advance or some sales at a convention. I probably didn't pick the best phrase, though - I didn't intend to insult anyone.

In my tiny, semi-rural library I hear from hundreds of them every year. Some of them have good books, but that alone isn't enough to draw people into a bookstore or library to see them. If they do a presentation of some sort, though, the odds increase, sometimes dramatically.

If you throw in those who self-published and have never sold to anyone other than friends and family, you can find "published authors" in every tiny town in the U.S. Unfortunately, those are the ones who tend to have delusions of grandeur, and usually wear thin on everybody's nerves.

Moses Siregar III said...

When it comes to conferences, I think the main benefit is networking (and making friends). If you're not so great at networking, then there's not as much practical benefit to it. If making connections with people is a strength of yours, then those trips might pay off--or not. You never know. On the other hand, these events can just be fun, and that might be enough reason to go (YMMV).

Thanks for the reminder on this one, Joe: "... next time someone asks to ... try to weight the pros and cons before automatically saying yes."

On another topic, I'm starting a new site/community that will use a very different (and fun, I hope) method to support indie authors. You can read about it here at Kindleboards. You're welcome to join us and submit your book for consideration (it's free). We're selecting our first six books on July 1st.

Susan Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Sullivan said...

I'm not sure signings and conventions have EVER been successful. My husband's first small press set up dozens of them and Michael sold between 5 and 35 copies at each - what a tremendous waste of time!! For Ridan I focus on online marketing efforts which produce much better results. A writers time is valuable - you need to maximize your returns.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Unknown said...

The idea of meeting people face to face to talk about my writing terrifies me. Heck, I don't even like to talk about it with friends and family. For me, an online presence and dialogue with readers is my best bet. I interact alot with them via Facebook and private email.

Most of my marketing has been done online. With paid ads, I found I never got the traffic I wanted, although it did accomplish some branding. IE people kept seeing my name everywhere and finally caved and bought a book--yay.

I've noticed interviews get the least resposne of all, and take the most time to do, so I don't do those at all anymore unless I get a special request.

I've found the cheapest and best method, for me anyway, is giveaways. I can set those up for free in a multitude of places, but since I hate wasting writing time, I now pay someone to do it for me lol. For about $20, I get 10-15 reader blogs with followings over 100 to run giveaways. I end up with hundred of responses to the contests, and see a boost in not only the books sales, but backlist too. Of course, this method only works with my indy stuff and the one epublisher I have that allows me to use as many copies as I want for promo. My other epubs restrict me to five copies only, and this lack of help to promote myself shows in their slower sales.

Hmm, okay that was alot more talking than I meant to do. Oops. Great perspective on the whole touring thing Joe.
Going back to lurking now lol
Eve :)

Anonymous said...

Robin-What online marketing things are you talking about? Ads? Banners? Blogs? Is it mainly for adult books or do you see potential is marketing to the YA audience? I ask because I am new to this business and any information regarding marketing is helpful.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club?

Melissa F. Miller said...

I have done next to no marketing for my thriller (I did buy a KND sponsorship that was well worth the $).

Despite this, I have started to hear from strangers who have read and enjoyed my book. I suppose this makes them fans(!) I enjoy interacting with them via e-mail or my Facebook page.

Meanwhile, a dear friend of mine has insisted on throwing me a "book party" in two weeks. It will be in the basement of a bar in Pittsburgh, where my book is set. The idea is that it will be a low-key fun event. Paperbacks will be available for sale and I will also sign previously purchased books.

Some of the 200 people invited are close friends, family, and former colleagues. But some are strangers.

I feel both excited and ill every time I think about it.

It's such a lovely gesture (and free for me), but the thought of talking about my writing with all those people makes my blood run cold.

My friend envisions me selling tons of books at this thing. I will be pleasantly surprised to sell 10.

Rochelle Melander said...

Thanks for a great post as always!
James, I think you mentioned doing a virtual tour. I am curious about what the rest of you think about that. Is it worth it? Did you hire a professional to help you organize it or did you do it yourself? I have a book coming out in the fall and want to do a virtual tour. Thanks all!

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I've found conferences to be very valuable in my career, but not as an avenue for selling books or even gaining fans. The value for me is in meeting other authors. I've made many great and lasting friendships that way, which is the most valuable aspect. But it has also been more helpful to my career than anything else I've done, other than reading and the writing itself.

Not only have I been asked to participate in several different projects after striking up friendships with other writers, but I have found critique partners and promotion partners and have learned a lot.

Look at how many different authors Joe has worked with. He met most of those authors at cons and appearances (including me).

Now he's right in saying that can't be quantified. But when I decide whether to attend an event or not, I do take seeing my writing friends and meeting new people into consideration. In fact, it's usually my deciding factor.

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

"The harder you work, the luckier you tend to get."

Amen to that. Of course, this also comes down to working smarter, not necessarily harder, right?

Especially for someone like myself who will definitely start out as a self-published author, I think 'virtual appearances' online and social media marketing will be a much better use of my time than physical appearances. Cheaper and not nearly so much of a time drain.

Because I do want to sell books and earn a good living doing what I love, so the more enjoyable and less like an expensive, unproductive slog I can make it, the better.

Rex Kusler said...

I signed up for Bouchercon this year, mostly to have fun, because I’ve never been to one. I noticed I got a lot of visitors to my website that were click throughs from my link on the list of attendees on their site. A lot for me anyway.

I did a giveaway for PUNCTURED on Goodreads, which was free and easy. I only listed it for a week, but it took them three days to approve it, so it was only available for four days, none of those during a weekend. 830 people signed up for it (430 on the last day), though I wasn’t so sure it wasn’t a waste of time, because I noticed nearly all of those entering their names seemed to be young women who wouldn’t be interested in my books. I got the impression they were just entering to try and win something. But a lot of people put PUNCTURED on their “to-read” list during those few days it was listed. And today I see that one of the winners is currently reading it.

It’s hard to know how much the giveaway helped, or will help. But it was so easy and inexpensive I think I’ll do another giveaway for ASHES TO DUST when I get my box of books next month.

JA Konrath said...

Ann is right. If you're looking to interact with peers, then conventions are worth the money. Especially since they're a write-off.

But don't go thinking they'll pay for themselves in book sales.

Jon Olson said...

Yeah, sociability is worth something. Also, I think promotion on the web, and in person, may have a cumulative effect. You see someone at a conference, you may not buy their book right there, but buy it later.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I am a huge John Grisham fan, but I wouldn't go to a bookstore and fight the crowd to meet him. The conversation would only last a few seconds anyway. I would much rather watch interviews of him on YouTube. There are quite a few of them.

You can also find video interviews of another of my fav authors: Mr. Konrath. ;)

I think this is a great way to make a connection with your fans. Sure, fans can interact with you on Twitter and Facebook, but there's nothing like watching you on video and hearing your voice.

You don't even need an interviewer. You can be answering the unheard questions of an off-camera personality. I definitely plan to do some. If I can ever get the lighting just right... ;)

Dawn said...

I think it more goes to vanity, and that I believe to a certain point, we writers are "drama queens"--even if we are introverted. I include myself in this category, of course.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson early. I paid $50 to appear at and have a table at an arts festival which was heavily atteneded. I had to get a hotel and shell out gas money. My book was TRADITIONALLY published [albeit, by a small press] so let me just state that before anyone gets on the vetting bandwagon.
I sold zero. Nada. Zip.
But---and Joe, I think this is the KEY--- I had to look upon it as a working vacation. I had never been to this place before [I won't mention it here because the organizers were actually very nice, and I don't want them to think I'm dissing them]. I had a travel buddy, and we turned it into a "girls night on the town." I gave out a gazillion business cards ---and Joe, dig this--to try to pull traffic to our literary tables, I actually had someone pass out "coupons" for FREE acrostics or poems that I would write on the spot (dang, that makes me sound like a whore).
I did get some "advertising" out of it---a live reading that went out on the radio, networked with a big name author who was there (more as a 'support local artists' than a promo thing though) point (there is one here, I promise)--
---does it pay off? Rarely. In fact, I'd say unless it has something very, very, very, local--like a book that took place in that town or invovles a person everyone knows and you are crashing on a friend's couch--it is hard to recoup the investments.
----is it a waste of time? Depends on how you look at it. I went into mine as--literally--a vacation/ road trip that happened to have a book appearance. Had I looked upon it as a business venture (which successful authors should do) I would have been pissed. When I saw I obviously wasn't getting anywhere, I tought well, might as well hang out and have fun...
Joe has shown me that the best way to keep my writing business going is to write, write, write, write.

Lyn Cote said...

I agree wholeheartedly and have put the brakes on public appearances that aren't really close to where I live. I still plan on going to a conference each year but that's different than booksigning etc. Different vibe.

Jude Hardin said...

I recently had a signing at one of the Books-A-Million stores in my hometown. I sold all the books BAM had ordered (25), plus a few I had stashed in my truck, and I got to chat with some friends and family members I hadn't seen in decades. I didn't make nearly enough money to cover expenses, but it was fun and it was worth it for the social opportunity. In general, though, signings are a waste of time and money, IMO, unless you're a celebrity or at least a NYT bestseller.

Buy my horror novella UNBORN for $.99, get JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS by S.J. Harris ABSOLUTELY FREE

Nancy said...

I have always been a reader and with practice I go through 4-5 books a week. There are books in every room of the house. My library card is always maxed out. I was struck with an idea, why not meet some of these folks who have kept me up night after night. I went to my very first book signing in 2002, David Baldacci was my first, I am sure he wouldn't remember the incident, but I sure did. From there it was Bouchercon 2003. Wow, there were authors everywhere and so many I never heard of. I blew my yearly book budget in one swoop. Then onto Left Coast Crime in El Paso. There I met Joe Konrath, a newbie at that time and a great guy. (Joe didn't pay me to say that.) I live in the midwest, can't find David Housewright, Duane Swierczynski, John Rector on Barnes and Noble's shelves. If it wasn't for conventions, book tours,etc.I wouldn't know these people exist. They are lost in the huge shuffle of material out there in Cyberland. I pay no attention to critics and book lists. Its the one on one, in your face that sells the books. My public library wouldn't have them on their shelves if someone didn't call their attention to them. Sure its expensive touring, tiring, but its what maybe a month out of the year? Its just as expensive for the fans. What's a book without someone to read it? Sure stay home, write 24-7, disappear into cyberspace. Someone will be at Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime with his book in hand, asking me to give it a look and I will because he stands out from all the rest.

Jude Hardin said...

Its the one on one, in your face that sells the books.

It's great that there are such wonderful book lovers like you out there, Nancy, but the sad truth for the vast majority of authors is that the money made from appearances will never equal the money spent. I would have to sell a couple thousand hardcovers, for example, to break even on a trip to Thrillerfest. Ain't gonna happen. I would be EXTREMELY lucky to sell a couple hundred. Better to spend the money on groceries and the time and energy on writing.

Buy my horror novella UNBORN for $.99, get JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS by S.J. Harris ABSOLUTELY FREE

Derek said...

Personally, it seems like online blog tours and independent reviewers have taken the place of corporate reviewers and in-store signings. Seems to me that's a good thing.

It's part of why I decided to get involved. I've always loved literature, but I couldn't write compelling fiction to save my life. So why not review?

And that's exactly what I've decided to start doing. I created a review blog specializing in Science Fiction called Science Fiction Addiction.

Now I just need to start getting submissions.

Walter Knight said...

You are right about expectations.

My tax preparer asked me about expenses for deductions. I almost felt guilty that I had no expenses. She asked, "What abut travel, book signings, costs of printing, etc?"

I just shrugged. "Sorry, it's not done that way anymore. Here's my internet access bill."

Traci Hohenstein said...

How in the world did you do all that?

I signed up to do a few book signings at local indie bookstores. I thought about going to Thrillerfest this year, but after looking at expenses, decided my time is better spent getting my second book out there. Also, I'm concentrating on developing my readership online. Seems to be working so far. As of today, my debut novel, Burn Out, is #5 on the Hot New Releases list on Amazon - and that's within 3 months of pub date.

Douglas Dorow said...

I've just published my first thriller and am trying to decide where I want to spend my time interacting with potential readers; Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Goodreads, Kindle and Nook boards....

The same question comes up, where will you get returns for your time? It's not only the immediate sale, but the relationship and name recognition, your brand you are trying to build.

I started following your blog after meeting you at the original Thrillerfest and thank you and everyone who participates in the discussion here. Like you and many, with the Amazon announcement last spring, I knew that indie self-publishing was the route for me. I put away the drafted query letter and focused on finishing the book.

Now it's on to thriller number 2 as I balance my time between social media, writing and my regular job.

Good luck.

Ninth District - kindle
Ninth District - nook
blog - Thrillers R Us
Douglas Dorow - Facebook
Twitter @DougDorow

Christine said...

This is indeed depressing. Many writers don't have the option to travel so much due to money shortness. I was about to promote my first novel on a fair today, but changed my mind. I' not prepared enough and I wanted to present a good product.

Anonymous said...

I learned early on that what Joe is saying is true. My first year with an online publisher, quite a while back, I did everything I could think of and then some. At year's end I had spent, all told, around $5,000 and that didn't even include conferences because at that time, e-pubs were very much looked down upon and were not welcome at conferences, which is why EPIC was formed.

I was working at the time so it made a great business loss, but that had its illogical side too because I hadn't sold anywhere near the number of books that in any other business would ever justify that kind of expense.

After that shock, once I came down from my cloud and got over myself, I learned to do what's pretty much free and forget about the rest. I do spend money on books to send for review, but I'm very careful who I send them to. And even then it's a crapshoot. You may get a decent review, you may not.

I know authors who spend thousands of dollars going to conferences every year. But understand this: Those are people who are either working at a good job, are writing for pubs who give them a good advance, or else have someone who supports them well. It's important for indie authors to realize that, before they start thinking of selling the house or wrecking a marriage because of finances just to go to conferences. I've seen both happen.

I have a new book out and I do all I can online to promote it without getting obnoxious about it because that can backfire on you if you do a LOT of book promo on the online venues. People tend to tune you out after they've allowed you to promote a LITTLE bit.

Joe and Rob Walker have created huge venues for themselves. They're both smart and they're both creative. In their case, it's worth it and I'm supremely happy for them. But they were there first and there aren't that many Konraths or Walkers out there who have that kind of energy or can go without much sleep. You have to have a VERY thick skin to be able to ignore the people who object to constant book promotion. And they do, but I've noticed that people who object the most have money of their own and don't have to worry about little things like making a profit; they're all off to their next conference.

So newbies, realize this: The only advantage to going to conferences is the friends and connections you might make there who can help you promote your books. But somewhere along the line you have to realize that other authors may buy SOME books at those conferences once in a while so that can't be your main promo thrust, because we're all out there promoting ourselves most of the time.

James Scott Bell said...

Good balance here, Joe. I love conferences and signings, but figured out early on the ROI is low. Yet I've come away from each experience with something of value. New readers, meeting colleagues I've stayed in touch with, and so on. It's a tax write off, too, so I figure I at least break even on the return if I include the intangibles.

With my two self-pubbed books, I've found that people with e-readers are glad to have a conversation, and I'll hand them a card for Watch Your Back and ask, if they read it, to email me and let me know what they think. The ROI on this has been terrific. For not much of an investment at all I'm meeting new readers almost daily.

Anonymous said...

The very first writers conference I went to (Crime Bake, 2009), I overheard a guy say to his friend, while buying a guest author's book, "I'll take a look at this one and see if I can figure out what he's got that I don't."

Silver Bowen said...

Ha. I am amused by how many comments to this blog are either blatant or thinly disguised self-promotion. Not that I'm any less guilty of that sort of thing than anybody else.

Michael said...

I've done promotion, I've ignored promotion. Either way, my books seem to move or not move based on things out of my control. My best month ever was when I was in Costa Rica, the entire month of April, and sold over 20,000 ebooks, including 15,000 copies of The Righteous. I did no promotion that month, whatsoever.

Stephen Leather said...

Best talks I give are always in prisons. You are guaranteed a captive audience and if they like you they promise to steal your books when they get out. A book stolen from a store is effectively sold.... works for me!

Gerrie Ferris Finger said...

You're always on point Joe. I think, though, that dragging yourself from coast to coast for many years established your fan base. Continued good sales with your ebook career.

Vicky M said...

Currently, my bestselling book is one that I did almost nothing to promote. Just saw the Kindle reports: 1,173 sold so far this month (single title).

I'm curious, are these numbers all that's needed to be a bestseller? 1200 sales of a single title in a month seems really low, especially when the book is basically a giveaway at $.99. For that "price" you'd think people would be buying it by the truckload.

Nothing against whoever it was that posted the comment above, and sorry to use you as an example, but I've seen comments like this on this blog and the kindle boards, and I don't really see how these folks can tack on the title "bestseller" with such tiny sales figures. Is it because of the genre lists that Amazon includes? Bestselling Horror titles, etc? Because those really don't count.

Kannan said...

Great article again Joe. It does seem like there is not enough return of investment in extensive travelling, speaking, etc. I finally got my nonfiction book out on Kindle yesterday (Paperback version to follow soon). Have been doing a little bit of promotion. It feels a little awkward to do self-promotion, but like you said, when you do nothing, you feel like it is an invitation to failure. So plan to continue marketing the book for a month or so and hopefully word-of-mouth will take over if people see enough value in the book. I would like to thank you again for your blog. It has been very helpful and inspirational in guiding me in the world of Indie-publishing!

Selena Kitt said...

I'm afraid I'll have to spend more time marketing than writing.

Don't do that. You have a choice. CHOOSE to spend more time writing than you do marketing. And I would suggest not marketing at all - just interacting. With other writers, with fans, with folks on Facebook and Twitter. So when you do plug your book, it really isn't marketing, it's just sharing information with people who want to hear it.

But the best advertisement for your first book is your second. And the best marketing for your second is your third. Just keep writing, build your backlist, and your books will eventually market themselves for you.

T. Roger Thomas said...

YouTube videos of authors hyping their books might help with the economics of pitching your work directly to readers.

Anonymous said...

Great points. What I am wondering is how you build an audience if you are not at conventions and signings? Joe has said many books die because people don't know about them. As a YA author does anyone have any thoughts? There is a step between my readers and the book and it is the buyer.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club

Walter Knight said...

You build an audience by writing more than one book. One hit wonders are soon forgotten.

For new authors the easiest face to face promotion is an interview with a small local newpaper, and even that can be hard to arrange.

Jude Hardin said...

Piracy's one thing, but how about outright plagiarism?

Nancy Beck said...

The first poster kind of stole my thunder. The Beatles did this, by touring non stop for years (and recording albums, naturally). Couldn't have been easy to be sequestered in a hotel in whatever city they happened to be in.

And then they stopped touring.

And continued to sell anyway.

And Sir Paul is doing a concert in NY in July(!) that I wish I could go to (too bad it's during the sweltering summer).

Anonymous said...

After reading this post again it would make sense that all the work Joe put in helped with his current situation. The question I wonder is would he have been as popular without the touring, signing etc.
I think he would because he's a great story teller but as I mentioned before there are many great story tellers that people don't know about.

Sean McCartney

The Treasure Hunters Club

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I also did the 150+ store signings, the Amway model for the struggling midlist writer, and did some conventions. I always combine business with pleasure--making sure I visit offsite--so that isn't all wasted. I do a lot of free library events.

Last week I was paid a decent stipend to lead workshops two hours away. Driving there, I thought "What a waste of my time, I can make more sitting at home writing." But I met a film executive there and had a great conversation and an invitation to send stuff. Now, that's still a longshot, but it reminded me that you never know which event, contact, or experience is going to be a life-changer. Maybe a friendship. Maybe an agent or publisher. Maybe a spouse. That's something you can't get in the same way just sitting at a keyboard.,

I am nothing but a reclusive hillbilly nerd, and even driving to town for groceries is starting to feel like visiting an alien culture. Everything in life doesn't have to be about selling books or making money. But if you have $3,000 total for your promo budget, I'd skip Thrillerfest and buy Goodreads ads instead.

Selena Kitt said...

Piracy's one thing, but how about outright plagiarism?

Yep, it's going on all over Amazon. There have been several pen names who have been culling free content from and posting it as their own ebooks. We had a few of our books involved. And Amazon hasn't been very responsive about it either. I went through myself downloaded samples and notified several authors I recognized that their work was being stolen.

Estevan Vega said...

A lot of this is very true, Joe, but there is a huge benefit to doing events. As you said, face to face meetings is very crucial in maintaining a fan base. I have done many appearances, and that's how a lot of my books sold.

I do agree, however, that book festivals is not the way to go at all. I attended the Baltimore Book Festival last year with my book ARSON. I sold 14, I think, and it rained, and it cost money to get there from CT. But what has worked extremely well, for me, is doing appearances at places that are not known for selling books. This is thinking outside the traditional box. Go to where your audience is. And that is to say, go where there is income. Sadly, the crowd who frequents book fairs are cheap, aspiring writers or readers who are there to find good authors and pick em up at the library. This sucks for the author trying to sell his heart and soul to an avid reader.

What works extremely well is doing events and appearances at unique places, like movie theaters, music festivals, local fairs. I cannot tell you how many people I've met at these things, and all of them have been lucrative and successful. So while ebook selling is good, it's not personal. There is a need, of course, and it is the way of the future, but for someone who hasn't "hit" yet, or made that epic splash, dive in this way. It works.

Estevan Vega (author of ARSON)

Bev Morley said...

Mmmm, I have to admit, being a bit of a homebird, I've never really liked the thought of doing the whole "public" thing.

Now I like the thought of not doing it even more!! I feel like a have a valid reason for staying at home writing.

Thanks Joe :o)

J Randall said...

I'm a low key promotion kind of guy. I've written a couple of novels. They probably won't sell many copies with lack of promotion, but I really don't care. I'm not looking for fame or riches. If someone likes what I wrote, great. If not, that's okay also. Joe, Seems like a lot of folks that drop in to your blog want to share in your good fortune. Good luck to them. Most of the folks here are looking to sell not buy.

Rex Kusler said...

I make public appearances on a regular basis--at the crap tables in Las Vegas. It hasn't helped my book sales. And I can't read the dice worth beans.

Jude Hardin said...

Yep, it's going on all over Amazon.

So what's a self-published author to do? Might make an interesting future blog post...

Jude Hardin said...


It was a good time. Not profitable, when you get down to it, but fun.

Anonymous said...

@ Selena

If I were a dishonest person looking for easy money I would be a kid in a candy store with all those ebooks so easily copied. Just slap a different cover set up some dummy accounts and I'm sure a few tricks known to criminals and it would take months if not years to track down all the lost sales. Artist are too damned trusting or too damned stupid.

Think of all the pictures used on the web without a single reference to the artist or photographer. If writers want that for themselves too then they should just keep doing business as usual.

SandyT said...

I remember driving to Mnpls for a signing at the Mall of America. Had the gas expense and two hotel nights. They had a yo yo championship the same day as my signing and everyone was at the yo yo gig. I have spent as much as $600 for an ad in Booklist in the infancy stages of my business. After 13 years it is still difficult to tell what works. With ebook sales, I used to sell 1 ebook in the uk for every 3 in the U.S. Now I'm selling 1 for every 2 and sometimes better. I wouldn't know where to advertise to garner uk interest but somehow it's there.

Chris said...

Off topic: John Locke just released his 'How I sold 1million ebooks in 5 months'

Interesting read.

How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! [Kindle Edition]

Travel For Less said...

Thanks for sharing, really like your view. Waiting for some more great articles like this from you in the coming days.

Jude Hardin said...

John Locke just released his 'How I sold 1 million ebooks in 5 months'

Locke contradicts Joe's assertion that everything boils down to luck.

So who's right?

Chris said...

Jude, since Locke says he sold very few ebooks for seven months and only began to climb the bestseller lists when he implemented his marketing system suggests it ain't about luck.

Good Content + Successful Marketing = Big Sales

Max Brand said...

Jude Hardin said: "Piracy's one thing, but how about outright plagiarism?"

That link doesn't work Jude. What's the gist of the piece? Just that there is a lot of plagarism? Anything quantifiable? Is there more plagarism than occurs with paper books?

So what's a self-published author to do? Might make an interesting future blog post...

I assume you meant Joe, but I would also like your thoughts. Do a post on the topic on your blog.

JA Konrath said...

I haven't read Locke's book, and I think he's a smart guy, but it's a trait of human nature to try to understand why things turned out the way they did, and point to factors that likely contributed to them.

But such logic dictates that everyone doing what Locke did will wind up with a million sales, and that just won't happen.

It's easy to believe that we control our destinies, but luck is the big factor.

There are a lot of business books written by moguls about getting rich. And those things worked--for those moguls. But the advice rarely translates, because or luck.

Hindsight is always 20/20. For the advice to be good, it has to be predictable, and subject to the scientific method.

I've worked harder, and smarter, than the majority of my peers. I've earned more than most of them. But I still believe luck is the key.

Locke has sold a million. That's $333,000. I'm pretty close to that figure too. But I haven't written a ebook about getting rich writing ebooks, because the gist of it would be, "Keep working hard until you get lucky."

Marie Simas said...

If I were a dishonest person looking for easy money I would be a kid in a candy store with all those ebooks so easily copied.

It's hilarious how often I hear this from self-published and traditionally published authors.

Don't fear piracy. WISH for it. As soon as my book started getting requested on the torrent sites, my sales increased.

The biggest hurdle for a new author is obscurity, not piracy. After that, make your books affordable, and no one will bother going to find a pirated version of your books.

Trust me.

I've sold thousands of books. Under more than one pen name, even. As long as your material is something that people want to read, you can make money.

JA Konrath said...

As long as your material is something that people want to read, you can make money.

I get daily Google Alerts of torrent sites and filesharing sites that have my pirated ebooks and audiobooks.

I'm not hurting financially.

Chris said...


Locke credits his use of twitter and his blog for his success (outside of content).

He calls his marketing strategy 'Loyalty Transfer'.

Suffice to say, what he is talking about is something that requires huge amounts of time. This is not 'publish and hope for the best' stuff. This is 'work your arse off marketing' stuff.

I think 95% of authors will not follow Locke's model simply because it requires huge effort.

I've seen this heaps of times with affiliate marketing. You can even give people ad copy, a media source, a product... but people still don't want to do the hard yards.

C'est la vie.

Chris said...

BTW: Locke's book is sitting at 54.

Not too bad for one day listing and $4.99 price point.

James said...

>As a YA author does
>anyone have any thoughts?
>There is a step between
>my readers and the book
>and it is the buyer.

The most effective way for my teen librarian to reach our YA patrons (for anything) is through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

When it comes to buying books for the YA section of our library, both of us rely heavily on online resources. She buys YA books for the library, I buy everything else.

Amazon is probably my favorite resource. My YA librarian relies quite a bit on Facebook "Likes," teen blogs, etc. Neither one of us care for Library Journal and such, since we can get reader reviews directly online.

Kiana Davenport said...

@Moses Siregar III...I agree with you and J. Konrath. Re book tours, signings, conferences, the author seldom comes out ahead sales-wise. But once or twice a year, I recommend them for networking. Otherwise, its all about online marketing. If readers want to see us, they can catch us on Youtube. (See Konrath and his bat!)

In an interview, Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Forget all that marketing/ promoting mumbo-jumbo. The best marketing for your first book is your second. For your ninth book is your tenth. Stay home. Write all day. Keep the loam well-dunged."

@ Anonymous on Ray Bradbury, one of our all-time geniuses. You're right: few signing, few interviews. But I encourage everyone to read his NBA Awards acceptance speech from 2000. Its brilliant, humble, hysterically funny. And encapsulates his whole writing career. EVERY WRITER SHOULD READ THIS! Google: Ray Bradbury/ NBA/ Acceptance

Anonymous said...

Another great article by Joe, on the subject of marketing.

Marketing is toughest of all for the newbie, the author who isn't publishing enovels to an existing paperback audience.

You get your novel on Amazon, but what then - how to get public interest?

Well actually there is a win-win way I haven't heard discussed much.

Enovelists need to create regular product to help generate sales and interest.

Those Eauthors that are doing moderately well (selling 100 to 1000 books a month) could help a Newbie and themselves.

Agree to joint publish with a newbie whose novel you really like.
You do nothing except agree to have your name as joint author to the book and include on your website. You get large chunk of royalty for doing nothing, you get extra product for your audience. The Newbie author gets a ready made fanbase - the desperately needed marketing.

This strategy probably isn't viable for top eauthors. But for those mid-rangers selling a few hundred novels a month, needing extra income and extra product - taking on a newbie whose work is similar to yours under a joint publishing agreement could be a great step.

I'm a newbie with a great young adult novel, but wanting a strong marketing plan before I publish. My novel is suitable for matching up with an existing selling eauthor (in the genres of young adult or science fiction, and perhaps adventure).

email me:

type 'joint publishing' in the subject header.

I can send intro chapters etc...


Jude Hardin said...

That link doesn't work Jude. What's the gist of the piece?

It works, but I'll make it easier.


The gist of the article is that thieves are copying our ebooks and selling them on Amazon and making money from them.

I get daily Google Alerts of torrent sites and filesharing sites that have my pirated ebooks and audiobooks.

I'm not hurting financially.

So it's okay if someone copies all your books and slaps new covers on them and sells them as their own? That's what's going on, not just file sharing. It could put an end to self-publishing as we know it.

Anonymous said...

Yes but would you like it if I put my name on it and sold it. Piracy is one thing stealing credit is another.

If they couldn't trace your work back to you. -- or is it ok to have people rip you you off in every way. I wasn't talking about piracy, but others getting credit for your work.

Anonymous said...

James- I agree that online is the place that people look for YA books. I wonder, however, that connecting with the audience(9-13) is harder in the ebook world because their parents,or whoever is respobsilbe for them, has the money to buy the books. I am also curious how many kids/students have a Kindle or any ereader. As a teacher I think they would be a great fit for the classroom.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club

Anonymous said...

I wanted to say I'm sorry if my original comment came off snipey to you. I was in a crappy mood and I wrote the note. My anger wasn't at you or your friends, but I can see it wrote like that and I'm sorry.

I am sorry that Amazon treats erotica writers with more disdain than plagiarizers. I hope it gets resolved.

I do wish there was a better way to keep work on the net protected so this wouldn't happen. I do think a person's hard work should be protected under their name.

Devon Ellington said...

It's a tough balance. On top of the financial and emotional drain, there's also the time involved. Time that could be spent writing.

You need to be out there so people know about your books, but if you have no time to write them, there's no reason to go out there and promote them.

And, when you're out there, people want to be able to get it SOON, while they still remember you, not six years down the road when you finally sat down to write.

Every time you receive an invitation or sit down to send out a pitch for an appearance, you've got to weigh all the different aspects of what it will mean in both the smaller picture and the bigger one.
BTW, now that I live in a house on Cape Cod with a guest room, I can put you up if you do come out to do a guest appearance -- provided you're not allergic to cats! ;)

Anonymous said...

@ Sean and James
***James- I agree that online is the place that people look for YA books. I wonder, however, that connecting with the audience(9-13) is harder in the ebook world because their parents,or whoever is respobsilbe for them, ***

When you are targeting young teens like you mentioned you write the blog primarily for the parent. Check out Melissa Wiley's blog to see how it is done.

W. Dean said...

Regarding marketing, I think most authors (self-published or not) would do well to follow Selena Kitt’s advice. Participating in forums and online discussion groups about books and writing is a good idea. But constant self-promotion is an immense turn off. Squirreling every issue raised into a plug for your book is transparent to all and can only hurt your sales, because it makes you sound like an uninteresting, one-note shill. Anyone can follow the link to your blog or website without a list of every book you’ve written.

Come to that, it’s an absolute mystery to me why more writers don’t follow one of the golden rules laid down in every novelist’s handbook: don’t talk about yourself unless you’re really, really, really interesting, because no one but your mama cares about your trials and tribulations. Write a blog about people or things that are interesting to draw attention to you and your books.

Joe’s blog is a case in point. He’s providing useful and interesting insider information about e-publishing. That’s why I come here. The reason I (and many others) don’t go to your blog (and hence buy your books) is likely related to the fact that you’re talking about you and your books and your friends’ books and their relation to you and your books.

Does this mean you should talk about e-publishing too? No. But maybe you should talk about something interesting or be funny—keeping in mind that more in-depth talk about yourself probably doesn’t qualify as interesting. I guarantee that you will generate far more interest than talking about you and your books, because any time I clicked on a blog and saw the first three posts are about you, your feelings and your book, I back-clicked forever.

Selena Kitt said...

I wanted to say I'm sorry if my original comment came off snipey to you. I was in a crappy mood and I wrote the note. My anger wasn't at you or your friends, but I can see it wrote like that and I'm sorry.

No apologies necessary.

It does rather suck - but it's highly unpreventable given the current, open system. There was something on the 'net months and months ago about someone actually plagiarizing a Hocking book. Someone wrote to Amanda Hocking saying, "Hey, you plagiarized this book!" and pointed it out to her. Except that Hocking's book had been written and published before that one, and was clearly her own - while this other person had slapped her name and a new cover on Hocking's book. (I can't remember where I read this, or I'd provide linkage... I think it was actually Amanda's blog?)

What amazes me is Amazon's lack of planning all the way around. They couldn't have predicted that a "Ped0phile's Guide" (or something equally as objectionable) might get published if they opened their platform to everyone? They couldn't have predicted that erotic material might end up in the hands of minors? They couldn't have predicted that plagiarism would occur in mass quantities?

All of the above could have been planned for - policies could have been made, problems headed off at the pass.

The rumor out there is that Amazon could avoid many of these issues if they start a "pay to play" system. It wouldn't surprise me if they started charging us to upload a book.

Marie Simas said...

I'm curious, are these numbers all that's needed to be a bestseller? 1200 sales of a single title in a month seems really low.

Vicky, that was e-book sales only-- and that was in 10 days. My point is that you don't need a publishing contract or an agent to sell 5,000 copies. People don't give e-book sales enough credit-- just think about how much money an traditionally published author earns from the sale of a cheap paperback romance. Is it more than 35 cents? And I know from experience that most of those paperbacks end up stripped in the dumpster behind the bookstore every time they do a physical inventory.

To give you some perspective, I made over 100K from publishing independently last year. Not as much as Joe, but still a very good living. Some of it was POD, some of it was e-books, and some of it was audiobooks. I do some ghostwriting and other freelance work as well. The point is that THIS is my day job.

Norm Cowie said...

I was at Printers Row and sold something like 40 books which covered my costs.

But I find that even at an event where sales were tepid, something serendipitous almost always happens ... meeting a teacher who gets me into a school ... or a newspaper shows up ... or a reviewer gives me her card.

It's almost gotten to the point that I count on something good happening wherever I go. Maybe it's because I make it a point to engage people... plus I try not to smell too bad.

I hope I don't get so big I start skipping these type events.

(Joe's probably thinking, "don't worry about that, Norm" ... grin)


Max Brand said...

Jude said:

It works, but I'll make it easier.


The gist of the article is that thieves are copying our ebooks and selling them on Amazon and making money from them.

I copied and pasted into my address bar and it didn't work for me. I got one of those 'address not found' notices, and a re-direct to the site's title page.

But thanks! I already used the link provided on a Crimespace post on the topic. A related article is also reference there.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Joe. I used to spend a lot of time doing book signings until I figured out that it wasn't cost effective. I still do a few author events, but mostly I stick to other marketing methods.