Thursday, January 15, 2015

Self-Publishing: A Return on Your Investment?

Can I Expect a Return on my Investment as a Self-Publisher?

Can you “expect” a return? The answer to that is no. The odds are against it. But, if you focus on the following six steps you will increase your chances, and the possibility of generating an income, if not a profit, but not from one, stand-alone, title.

I initially anticipated this to be a single article, but I am convinced that it needs to be expanded into a six-part series instead. There’s just too much to share in one sitting. I don’t want you falling asleep on me, or going to YouTube and watching videos instead.

Step No. 1 — Write more. Write often. You need more than one title.

You won’t break even on one title, but you stand a chance of that and more if your sites provide more than a single title option for visiting readers and, eventually, loyal followers.

Here’s the thing. Sure, you want to publish longer stories. You desire to push past the average short story (or maybe not) and pen and publish novellas and novels in the 25,000 word to 90,000-plus word category But, assuming you have sites where you can feature your titles, even offer eBook downloads and print versions, you can do something within the next two weeks that will generate a surge of interest in your titles—feature eight to ten good, well-written, satisfying short stories.

This keeps your one longer title company and gives the impression you are a dynamic writer, a prolific writer, and that the return visitor can depend on finding new material written by you virtually every week or ten days they drop in for a look.

Come up with a 500-to-1,000-word short story today. Edit tomorrow. Generate a reasonably attractive cover for it (more on that later), polish and publish. Announce its availability on all your social sites, especially Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. As well as others. At the rate of one new title every two days, you will have effectively buffed up your backlist to seven, or more, new titles in two weeks.

No, no, no...it's totally doable. You’re a writer with lots of ideas going on inside that creative mind of yours. Take those ideas, use your muse, and generate these titles. Let them be the precursor to future, longer works, but make them complete, with the traditional beginning, middle and end.

Plan on four hours tops, to generate a 500-word short story—maybe the same for a thousand words, or an hour or two more. Editing? The next day? A couple of hours. Formatting and uploading, another couple of hours. So, you invest, say, eight hours in two days to generate a new title. Some can do this faster while others may need a bit more time. In any event, you are a writer. Write those stories with the knowledge that you are investing in a business that can bring a return provided you are willing to make it happen.

You might be more comfortable knocking out seven or eight short stories in a few days, then going back and editing them, then going back and designing the cover, formatting and uploading. If that is how it works for you, then by all mean, go for it.

MORE TO COME...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Postcards, Direct-Mail, Can Work for Authors

When folks say direct-mail campaigns are expensive, they're usually talking about paying for mailing lists/addresses, sending out a thousand or more at a time, and the sorting and grouping that comes with handling such volume. Direct-mail postcards and postage, however, can fit most any budget.

You can go to Vistaprint, GotPrint, Over Night Prints, America's Printer, Zazzle and a host of other printers and get real bargains on small- or large-run printer services for everything from business cards to flyers to postcards to book markers. You get what you pay for, but prices range from $20 to $50 to $100, depending on amounts, colors, size and other considerations. I personally have used America's Printer and Vistaprint. Both are good, my go-to printer is America’s Printer for all-around service and generally competitive pricing.

Those giant postcards are not what you want, and they do not impress me—I suspect they mostly irritate others as well. In this case, yeah, size matters, but don't consider anything more than 4x6 to maybe 5.5 x 8.5. Good enough. More on designing your postcard later in this article.

So, while it CAN be expensive, and I've not done much of it for my fiction publications/titles, direct-mail campaigns using postcards has always generated the MOST responses for me in all other marketing endeavors. I will be doing this in 2015 for all titles—fiction and non-fiction. NOTE: We’ll talk about e-mail campaigns, e-mail blasts, newsletters and other e-mailing approaches in a later article.

I did develop through Lulu.com, a postcard for my non-
fiction how-to book on making money with funeral and memorial videos. Following the same principle as I have with my video company's marketing for specific services—dance, performance, sports, events, etc.—that EVERY occupied home and address is a valid potential client, I've acquired any addresses I could without paying, and mailed out small batches of postcards.

My theory is that direct-mail doesn't HAVE to be based on a mailout of thousands, or even hundreds, of postcards. It can be handled based on my (your) budget. The effect, the exposure, accrues. The more you mail out, as often as you can afford, over time, the more visibility, linkage, and brand awareness you build. I have NEVER conducted a mailout of 20 or more postcards that I've not received inquiries and sales. NEVER!
And, I've even mailed a postcard a day for 30 days-in-a-row, knowing that by the end of that campaign I will have received responses and business. I fully intend to do this for all of my titles.

Here's my points:
1.) Your postcard doesn't ONLY get seen by the final addressee. It is seen by all who handle it en route, all those who reside at the address, and it has shelf life. People keep good looking, interesting and intriguing postcards around for a bit—mostly. Sure, we all toss stuff we get in those marriage-mail bundles, but we do scan some of it. If you've done something other than just filling your mailing piece with copy—dense, heavy copy—it will stop the eyeballs long enough to register.

2.) Postcards in small batches aren't THAT cost prohibitive, or expensive to mail. Not cheap, but small batches can be budgeted. Again, it is effective, over time, and as you continue mailing them.


3.) Postcards should include your contact information, your website and a QR code that takes people on the go with smart phones, tablets and other devices directly to your video book trailers. Or, your websites, blogs or other places where you have content you want to promote.


4.) Ah, yes, video book trailers. Combined with postcards, they are a win-win marketing program and will generate traffic to your pages and websites.

Designing a postcard, flyer, or book marker.

1.) Your book cover is your template. Other than your contact information, links to your Internet sites and that QR code, your cover and back-page blurb should be your postcard design—generally speaking.

2.) Color is no longer cost-prohibitive. Use color, unless you're making some kind of creative statement and desire to go with black and white.

3. Probably, the absolute largest postcard you want to create is a 5.5 x 8.5 and keep it horizontal, not vertical. I made that design mistake and hate it. Trust me. Horizontal.

That's it. Try some and see if it doesn’t get you positive results.

I told you my next blog topic would be "Return on Your Investment" but this one on marketing came up, thanks to my good friend and fellow writer, Ted Atoka. So, Return on Your Investment will be my focus for an upcoming article. Meanwhile, my titles can be found at Lulu Spotlight Earl and check out our posse of writers at Writers of the West.

More to come next time...

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

What You Know and What Others Tell You

What writers need is balance.

All clich├ęs apply, from the one about writing being a lonely world for the author, to the one about ... well, you know.

I want to point out a few things to those who are self-confident, frustrated, overwhelmed, or just plain insecure. You are not alone, and you are not wrong, and you are not an inferior writer, and you are not destined for failure or public humiliation. You MUST find a way beyond your insecurities—the bane of most, if not all writers—and achieve a level of faith in yourself that indeed borders on conceit and cockiness. The key word here folks is “borders.”

Truth of the matter is most of us are humble sorts. We are always a bit nervous about allowing others to read our work, knowing it is below par, primitive and perhaps stupid. Our writing is weak. Our prose is overdone. Our stories are too simplistic, too intellectual or too far out there. How do we know this? Well, beyond that person sitting at the keyboard or writing pad insisting so (yes, you) there are all those people who read the stuff and come back with 1,001 ways to improve, perfect or otherwise make readable your hard-fought story.

And, lest we forget, those who beseech us in unfriendly terms and unkind phrases to seek other avenues of creative expression.

Readers are important. Critique is important, Professional editing is VERY important. Proof reading is important. All constructive criticism and input is important. This being said...

What I find not only interesting, but revealing about this process, is the number of readers/editors who are offended when you do not use any or all of their suggestions, or laud them for their awesome insights. When you do not pay homage to their awesomeness and bow to their superior literary skills. Ahem...

I cannot tell you the number of times,
 in past years, where these people were pissed off, and even abusive in their follow-up comments, accusing me of being hard-headed, stubborn and not interested in perfecting or improving my story because I did not use some, any or all their input, or take their comments to heart.

Where I have had strong and specific responses to some of their misperceptions, I have replied, not defensively but factually, and even that sometimes has gotten me negative blowback. Usually, if I have nothing I want to clarify, I do not comment. Either way, I have frequently been accused of being defensive when it truly felt like it was the other way around.


Once you get past your worst critic, YOU dear writer, and start seeking advice, input or corrective surgery for your stories, and once you overcome this thing called insecurity, you must develop a sense of what is good for your story and what is not.

Virtually EVERY individual from whom you gain advice will give you something—a nugget perchance—you can use to upscale your story. Take that and dump the rest. Always connect with those with whom you work as readers, et al, and thank them for their input, mentioning specifically or generally what they offered that worked for you. It is not necessary, other than for factual clarification, to enter into debate or defend anything you do not use or apply.

If you cannot agree at all with something offered, don't bother arguing this point or that, simply thank them for their hard work, interest and support, and make your story the best it can be.

YOU will always be the last word in your storytelling. YOU will always be the champion of your story, what it should, or could use to be better; what it must retain of your creative endeavors to remain your story.

You cannot satisfy all the above people who offer, volunteer or are paid to provide you with their services and skills. You will never satisfy all readers. So, push comes to shove, satisfy yourself. But, let's not be stupid. Always know that while you have the choice to accept or reject what is shared by others regarding the quality, content or readability of your story, keep an open mind to how it most certainly can be improved.

Write for quality. Edit for purity. Publish with confidence.

MY NEXT BLOG TOPIC — Return on Your Investment

I've invested as much as $1,000 in editing, cover design, layout and formatting services knowing full well that I have less than Las Vegas odds at a chance of recovering my investment, not to mention the time spent creating and polishing the initial product. For those of us with commercial interests above and beyond simply writing for the joy of it, independent publication is an expensive process. You will pay for professional services for that story, collection, novella or novel. But, BUT...it only takes one to hit the pulse of your readers/followers and many of your other heavily invested titles will boost sales closer to breaking even.

So, while it is a gamble to invest so deeply in professional services. Every time you do you increase the odds in your favor of possibly recouping your costs over the long haul. MORE TO COME NEXT TIME.

My titles can be found at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Earl or Amazon, SmashWords, iBookStore, Nook and Selfy. Also, check out http://www.writersofthewest.com for a look at what is new in western storytelling. The site features a posse of penslingers who are working to revive not only The Western, but all aspects of the flavor of that era and the characters who colored it.