Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On Writing and Publishing Excellence

Last weekend I visited my son in California, taking him to ski and snowboard Mammoth Mountain. Until that trip, I'd only skied the Southeast and considered myself a decent skier. But Mammoth taught me a lesson in excellence.

After a seemingly endless ascent on a lift that turned my knuckles white from my terrified grip, I was quite proud to find myself looking down the huge slope beneath me, basking in the headiness of "now I've made it to the big time." But after admiring the view for a few moments, a movement in the distance behind me caught my peripheral vision - another lift that I could barely see, taking skiers to a dizzying height that dwarfed my slope in comparison. From the lofty height, expert skiers Add Imagewould shoot down a slope that appeared to be only a degree or two off from a sheer cliff.

(I took the pic from the top of my lift. The top of the higher lift ends in the top left corner of the photo.)

My slope suddenly looked rather small -- a feeling akin to the kid who thinks the McDonald's playground is cool until he sees an advertisement for Disney World.

Now don't get me wrong. The humbling experience didn't dampen my spirits. I'll always treasure the time with Benji, the breathtaking views, and the exhilarating runs down the slopes. But it was both humbling and challenging to gaze upward and realize that there was more, should I aspire to excellence in the sport.

I immediately thought of my writing and publishing. It's cool to be published with a traditional publisher and to have my ideas translated into multiple languages. But it's also cool to glance up at the lofty heights attained by the greatest authors of my genre. They keep me from getting comfortable. They challenge me to keep getting input, gleaning from their wisdom and tweaking my style.

They also challenge my marketing. By glancing up regularly at the lofty heights attained by great book marketers such as Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, I'm challenged to keep reading up on marketing, trying new methods and pursuing those that work with gusto.

So enjoy your writing and publishing at whatever level you've reached, but don't get comfortable by neglecting to regularly reflect upon the greatest in your field. There's always so much more to learn!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Useful Stats for Authors and Publishers

Someone recently passed on to me some helpful publishing stats. They help me to compare expenditures, time put forth and sales to others in the industry. They also help me to plan more realistically and realize why I often have to do things that other writers aren't doing to get noticed in this industry.

Since Mark Twain famously singled out three degrees of lies:

#1: Lies
#2: Damn Lies
#3: Statistics

we'll take all these figures with a grain of salt and think through their practical implications. You'll notice that some of the stats contradict.

Number of Publishing Companies

8,000 to 11,000 new publishing companies are established each year .

Here's a summary of the growth in the number of publishers (from Publishers Weekly):

1947: 357 publishers
1973: 3,000 publishers
1980: 12,000
1994: 52,847
2004: 85,000

Number of Books

2006: 291,920 new titles and editions
2004: 2.8 million books in print (Bowker)
2004: 17 new books published each hour in the USA. (Book Industry Study Group)
70% of the books come from small/self publishers.
1999: The top 20 publishers accounted for 93% of the sales.

Small, Independent Publishers and Self-Publishers (
  • Each averaged publishing 7 titles.
  • 60% operate from home offices.
  • They earned an average of $420,000 (1997) Compare this to Tom Woll's survey in 2002, which found 70% of the publishers reporting sales of less than $100,000.
  • Half of the ones earning over $1 million worked from home offices (1997).
  • The typical Indie publisher works 50 hour work weeks.
  • They publish four times more nonfiction than fiction.
  • Quickbooks is their favorite accounting software.
Average Amounts Spent on Tasks (

Interior Layout: $5 to $18 per page
Book Design: $10 to $150 per hour, totaling $465 for a simple cover to $3,533.26 for a complex cover.
Illustrations: $276 average.
Average revenue per employee: $97,713.

Hours to Complete Tasks

To write a fiction book: 475 hours
To write a nonfiction book: 725 hours
To produce a book: 422 hours fiction, 55p hours nonfiction
To design a cover: 10 to 15 hours
To edit: a book: 61 hours

Print Runs of small publishers

Average print run: 2000 to 5000 copies. (Tom Woll, Cross River Publishing)


Lightning Source has more than 2,000 publishers as clients.
30% of the new titles in 2005 were printed in quantities of less than 100 units.

Most initial print runs in at traditional publishers are 5,000 copies.

China is the leading manufacturer of four-color books.

Print on Demand

3.4% of their books sell more than 500 copies.

14.3% sold more than 200 copies.

"Xlibris averages 33 sales per title." Compare with "The average Xlibris book sells about 130 copies." Compare with :"Xlibris did just mail me an advertisement stating that they've published over 10,000 books and sold over 1 million copies. If you do the math, that comes to about 100 copies per book, and most authors probably buy a few dozen for friends and family."(The latter stat found at

I-Universe averages selling 75 copies per title.

Authorhouse claims to sell 108 books per title.

When are you Successful?

According to Authors Guild, a successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies. A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.

The average book in America sells about 500 copies. (SM - I wonder if this is speaking of traditionally published books only.)

"A book by the average author - that is, the average author who manages to find an agent and land a deal - sells just 11,800 copies, according to the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit research organization, and RR Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information." (Fast Company Magazine, Getting on the Same Page, November, 2005)

International Sales

In 2005-2006, books shipped to (in order) Canada, UK, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Germany.

Men buy more books than women ( Compare: "Women buy 68% of all books" (

Importance of book covers

A bookstore browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.

Sales reps give 14 second pitches.

The Potential for New Authors (

81% of the population feel they have a book inside them.
27% would write fiction.
28% would write on personal development.
27% would write history, biography, etc.
20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
6 million have written a manuscript.

How Many are Reading?

2002: 57% of the US population read a book.
2001: People in the U.S. read an average of over 14 books each year. (Gallup)
1997: 63% of adults report purchasing at least one book during the previous three-month period.
One third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. (compare to "58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.")
People reduced their time reading between 1996 and 2001 to 2.1 hours per month. (Publishers Weekly)
2001: per capita spending on books per month was $7.18 (Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003.)

27% of adult Americans (31% of Canadians) didn't read a single book for pleasure in 2007. (What about people who, like me, read voriously, but almost solely for information rather than pleasure? Would I have had to check the "not read one for pleasure" box? I suppose this tells us something about how many don't read novels.)

Of reading Americans and Canadians, most read more than 20 books per year.

Self-Help Books

One in ten books sold are self-help. (Wall Street Journal, 1998)


70% of Americans haven't visited a bookstore in five years. (

80% of books published by major publishers come through agents. (Michael Larsen)

70% of the books published do not make a profit. (Jerrold Jenkins)

Books are displayed in bookstores for one selling season of four months. If they don't sell by then, they are returned.

Industry return rate is 25 percent for paperback.

Book Reviews

LA Times receives 600 to 700 books for review each week. (Steve Wasserman, book review editor,

Government Grants to Publishers

Canadian government grants to publishers: $48 million. (Hmmm...I wonder how writers get into that money?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The State of Traditional Publishing

Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy addressed the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association's CEO Symposium and Publishing University the first week in November. Some of her comments are enlightening and thought provoking. I'm pulling from an article at Publishers Weekly by Cindy Crosby: Reidy: Worse Publishing Environment May Be On the Way.

For several reasons (e.g., a terrible economy and new publishing options), traditional publishers are struggling.

Here's one significant snippet:

"brand name authors continuing to sell but 'everything else is far off normal levels.'"

That tells me that, at this point in history, traditional publishing is for top-selling authors. It may become more and more difficult to be a small fry author in traditional publishing. They're gonna stick with those authors (and bias their marketing dollars) to those who have already established themselves as brands. They'll likely take new authors who already have huge platforms.

Another thoughty statement:

"Reidy also wondered out loud that with self-publishing so easy, 'is it only a matter
of time before one of (the major authors) actually strikes out on his or her own?'"

Hmmm...sounds like they fear that when big-time authors realize how easy it is to bypass the big publishers, they will cut out the middle man and start getting 35% royalties on Amazon sales like those publishing through BookSurge.

Traditional publishers still have a lot to offer, but there are certainly lots of great alternatives out there to consider.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting Amazon Reviews

No author can ignore the incredible potential of Amazon sales. And one of the greatest things we can do to get more Amazon sales is to get more Amazon reviews.

Why? Because most of us take the reviews seriously. If I'm looking for book on, say, book marketing, and have to decide between two books, published the same year, with all things equal except that one has fifty reviews and the other two reviews, guess which one I tend to buy (if the reviews are decent, of course)? I assume that more are reading the book with more reviews. The less reviewed book seems like more of a risk.

Most authors apparently assume that getting reviews is a passive indeavor, as they wait for readers to post their comments. But the vast majority of readers don't write reviews. I see great books with only one or two reviews. Even if you love a book, do you generally write a review?

Knowing the importance of Amazon reviews, wise marketers find ways to encourage people to review their books. Thomas Nelson, a major publisher, does this through their "book review blogger" program. Here's their description:

"Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on any consumer retail website."

Looks like they're buying first class ads at a bargain basement price.

Here's how I plan to do it. I sent an early draft of my latest book to about 30 friends and personal contacts to give me input before my final revision. Twenty-five of them read it. After my book comes out, I'll send a free copy to each of these people - a nice reward for their free editing. In an accompanying note, I'll say,

"Thanks so much for your help in making this a better book! There's no charge for the book, but would you do me one more favor by writing a candid review on Amazon? Here's where you'll find it (put the Amazon url here)."

Since they've already read the book, a review is a cinch.

You could do the same with your relatives, your writer's group, or your writer's association.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Breaking "The Distribution Code"

How will you distribute your book? Bookstores and libraries don't have time to order from tens of thousands of individual authors who sell from a stack of books in their basement. It's much more efficient for them to order from a small selection of wholesalers and distributors.

So how do you get with the right distributors so that your book has a chance to make it into the main places that sell books? Some of the answers are pretty straightforward and others a bit more tricky. Make sure you know precisely what you're getting into.

"Available" or "Available with Return Policy"?

One publisher said that they do an especially good job of making their books "available" in bookstores. Hmmm... "available?" What they may mean is that "it's available for any bookstore to order through a major wholesaler."

Just one problem with that set-up: if the wholesaler offers no return policy, then most bookstores won't order it except when a customer comes in and puts through a special order. Why? Because bookstores are used to having the option of returning books that don't sell and getting their money back. (Libraries, on the other hand, will order with no return policy.)

So, if it's important to you to get your books into bookstores, you'll want to make sure your publisher sets you up with the major wholesalers - Ingram and Baker & Taylor - with a return policy.

If you're going the print on demand route, Booksurge hooks you up with Baker & Taylor, while Lightning Source gets you with Ingram and Baker & Taylor. But check to make sure whether or not they're offering a return policy. If not, and if getting into bookstores is important to you (it's not important to everybody), you might need to pay extra to establish the policy.

On Getting a Distributor or Wholesaler

If you're with a major publisher, you're almost assuredly hooked up with both Baker & Taylor and Ingram with a return policy. If you're publishing yourself or with a small press, you need to find out how you're set up.

Ingram won't take books directly from any press that has published less than ten books. If your publisher is very new, or if you're self-published, you'll need to find a distributor that has a relationship with Ingram.

Comparing Distributors

Some distributors passively take orders. Others actively market your book and make personal calls to open up new distribution channels.

Some ask for exclusive rights to distribute your book. Let's say you're with Booksurge and excited about making 35% on each Amazon sale. Could signing an "exclusive" contract with a distributor require you to distribute to Amazon through your distributor, giving you a much smaller part of the action? (This week, I chatted with a representative of AtlasBooks, the largest distributor for small to mid-size publishers, who told me that although publishers sign an exclusive distribution contract with them, they allow BookSurge authors to keep their 35% from Amazon.)

Make sure you know exactly what you're getting in a distributor!

Here's an annotated list of select distributors from John Kremer:

Ingram lists these distributors as having a relationship with them:

Publicity Tips

Yesterday, I started reading Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval, a former publicity director of several publishing houses. She emphasizes that even if you have a traditional publisher with a marketing department, authors must market their books if they expect them to sell.

She begins by sharing the story of James Barron, who wrote a "funny and informative" book for expectant fathers. At the time of Deval's writing, Barron had 185,000 copies in print. How did he do it? A couple of things stood out to me:

1) "He stopped by specialty stores like maternity shops, toy shops, and hospital gift shops" to persuade them to order from his publisher and sell the book, giving them a sales order form. He even offered to buy back the books if they didn't sell, but never had to buy any back. Forty to 75 stores ordered, and many of these kept re-ordering.

2) He selected three cities to target: New York City (where he lived), Chicago (where he grew up), and Atlanta (where his wife was from). He hired publicists in Chicago and Atlanta to "set up media and book signings, as well as to go to the sames kinds of specialty stores as he did in New York." I'd never really thought of publicity people as being regional. But it makes sense that some publicists would have lots of regional relationships and know all the possible outlets.

He said, "I work under the assumption that I'm going to get twelve rejections for every yes."
I like that. If I find some success in alternative outlets and discover that one out of 10 will say yes, then it becomes a time and numbers game. If I contact 100 stores, I might get 10 stores taking me. I can wade through the rejections if they net me some decent sales. Cool!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Marketing Ideas from Robert and Kim Kiyosaki

  • How can low-profile people publish and sell books?
  • What if publishers reject us?
  • What if bookstores don't want to stock our book?
  • How can we sell our books?
Best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, 26 million copies sold, on the NY Times Bestseller list for six years) and his wife Kim addressed some of those questions in an interview. Their main points:

1) He considers himself a poor writer, having flunked out of high school twice because he couldn't write. "I can't spell and don't know punctuation. If I were back in high school today, I'd still flunk."

So he wrote as best he could and gave it to a second grade teacher to re-write, but she made it into a boring textbook. He then gave it to the person who would become his co-author to put it back into more natural, interesting language.

2) He approached the book as an entrepreneur rather than a writer. His background was sales and marketing. From that perspective, most authors are boring. You need to say something that others aren't saying. You need to write with your readers' needs in mind.

Also, as an entrepreneur, he considered related sales. In fact, he wrote his book as a brochure to sell his $200 game.

3) He overcame rejection. All the publishers he pitched the book to said that it sucked and would never sell. Wholesalers and distributors didn't want it. Bookstores didn't want it. So, he self-published 1000 copies.

4) Market your books. He paid a publicist thousands of dollars, but got only one small speaking opportunity. He then took out an ad in the Radio-TV Interview Report, which landed him interviews with a few big-time radio stations. Then the big bookstores started calling him because people were asking about his book and they needed to stock it.

Someone asked Kim why she was attending this marketing conference. After all, they had already sold millions of books. She responded, "That's why we're on the bestseller lists." They're always learning about selling and always promoting their books. "You can never stop promoting, never stop selling. I never stop selling."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marketing Ideas from Jack Canfield

Today I listened to Steve Harrison interview Jack Canfield, co-author of the wildly successful "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. Here are my takeaways.

His credentials: He sold over 115 million books over 41 languages, has been on Oprah, Larry King, etc. One of his Guinness World Records is to have the most books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

His motivation: to change the world and make a difference.

How did he get started?

In college, he majored in Chinese history. But he took an elective class in psychology and fell in love with the subject. In grad school he studied education, then taught in an inner city school. He wanted to learn how to motivate his students and succeeded to such an extent that he began training other teachers. He then wrote a book about helping students, but discovered that if you didn't let people know about the book, that people wouldn't buy it.

At a teacher workshop he was leading, a person said, "My husband's company needs this." He hesitated to accept, thinking it was out of his field. But she assured him, "They're just kids in big suits."

He always illustrated his concepts with stories. People would ask if the stories were in a book. So he made a list of 70 stories, hooked up with Mark Victor Hansen and his stories and created their first Chicken Soup book.

But they were rejected by 144 publishers. They were both in debt, not making much money, and had to market it themselves. 18 months before it hit a bestseller lists, they began interviewing scads of people who had written successful books, asking, "What do you do that we need to learn?" They looked for patterns and created a marketing plan. By the end they had a #1 bestseller and later a bestselling series. A Chinese company just got rights to use their books to teach English in China.

Had he not said yes to teaching those businessmen, he would have never gotten to where he is today. Now he speaks to thousands.

His mission: "To inspire and empower people to live their highest vision in a context of love and joy." He helps others to live their vision, not to adopt his vision.

Harrison: "Did you just get lucky? What made the difference?"

Hanson: We make our own luck. We started thinking differently; thinking like a marketer. It took several years to get beyond the stigma of marketing - thinking that it was something less than legitimate for an author. It took a shift in attitude, a learning of techniques and strategies.

Harrison: Many authors have passion to serve and make a difference but feel awkward about self promotion. What would you say to them?

Canfield: If you had a cure for cancer, would you have a fear of being a self-promoter? Believe that what you have is extremely valuable. To not share it hurts people. If you have food for the hungry but don't tell the starving you have it, you've done them a disservice. You're not an egoist, you're simply helping people.

Don't hide your light under a bushel.

There's both a feminine and masculine aspect to creating a book. First, there's the creative part of giving birth to the book. Then there's the masculine sideof pushing it out into the world and supporting it. Don't put the baby in the dump.

Mark Victor Hanson was more outgoing than me. You might need to team up with a person who's more out there.

Mark and I had to become our own ad agents. We couldn't afford to hire a PR agent. But we won both a book publicist award and an Abby Award, beating out the professional PR people.

If you wanna be successful, you've got to do the work.

Things authors can do:

1) Decide (from Latin "To Cut Off"). Cut off alternative paths. We have over 2000 people who've said they didn't commit suicide because of a chicken soup book.

2) Expect to succeed. A publisher said, "You'll be lucky to sell 20,000 books." The publisher laughed out loud at them when they told them they wanted to sell 150,000 by Christmas. Now the publisher has profited wildly.

To visualize success, we took the NY Times bestseller list and typed in "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and put them in hallways, in our office, etc., to visualize the goal. We would visualize whole bookstore windows with their books in it. Today there's often an entire category of books called Chicken Soup for the Soul in bookstores.

We spent 8 or 9 minutes each day visualizing images of success.

Rather than say, "We're writing a book, we'd say, "We're writing a best-selling book." Dream big. It doesn't take any more energy or time to dream a big dream than to dream a small one.

What he learned from W. Clement Stone:

Get into action. Get off the couch. Do something that brings results. Stone would take a wooden quarter with the letters TUIT on it and give it to people who said, "I'll do it when I get around to it." He'd give them one and say, "Here's your round TUIT. Now get going on your project." It's the ones who act on ideas that make them happen.

I use a vision board screen-saver on my computer. Images of my goals keep going before me.

Every book you get into someones hands can change lives forever. Read You've Got to Read this Book. Every goal I've visualized has come through, although not all came through on time.

What visualization does:

You begin to believe it's possible.
You start your subconscious working on it.
You activate a new part of your brain that will help you achieve your goal.

Stone also taught him to use affirmations.

Harrison: And you studied marketing. I saw you at a marketing seminar, having already filled a spiral notebook full of new ideas and having to get out the hotel notepads.

Things to do:

First, be a giver. If you want the best for your reader, this is the 1st. We always identify a charity to share in the profits of each book. Put the charity on the back of your book. People like to buy, knowing that part goes to charity. Plus, it's hard to give without getting. Charities then started putting the book in their literature to sell more - they make more that way.
Give away articles to parenting magazines free of charge. Give free talks. For the first six weeks we went to churches and chambers of commerce. Find the connectors who can introduce you and your books to others.

With our last book, we gave away 2500 copies.

I can point to every free talk I've given an identify people who came up and said things like, "I want 100 books for...."

Become a joiner. He's part of 12 organizations, so that he can network. People are typically weak in finances and networks. Volunteer your time in organizations. He started volunteering in a hospital cutting cheese balls. But that's where he met leaders of organizations.

Harrison: It's the power of 6 degrees of separation.

Speak at conferences. If you're not willing to give it away free, you're not passionate about it. You get to meet other speakers and connectors.

Get out of your office. Writing books is like an iceberg - 10% is writing. 90% is marketing.

Harrison: What if have money issues?

Canfield: Read Speak and Grow Rich. The best way to make things happen is to talk to real, live people. There are lots of strategies. Call associations. It's all learnable.

Buy catologues to find lists of places that get speakers. Know the American associations.

We want to make large sales, not small sales. If Amway could buy it for their employees.... They called numerous organizations that hung up on them. Then got to "D" and a toy store owner talked to them and bought thousands.

We got lists of radio shows and started calling them. We did 600 shows that first year.

On interviews:

We asked Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) for his secret. He did 3 interviews a day. Even 10 years later he was doing one interview a day. One hour interviews are best.

Now he does a satellite radio interview, then radio shows. You can do virtual tours. But whatever you do, KEEP GETTING OUT! As long as he does interviews, sales go well. When he takes a week off, sales cut in half.

Harrison: Why do you still do the small stuff?

Everybody's listening to every radio station, otherwise, they couldn't stay going. So start with the radio. Take a 1:00 in the morning slot that nobody else wants to do. Somebody's out there listening. They may hear about the book, read it, and pass it on. It could change that person's life.

He takes internet radio shows, though may be small. We do constant and never-ending marketing. "I never wrote books to get rich; I wrote books to make a difference." So he takes small and big opportunities.

One of the big tools is bypass marketing. Only one out of seven people go into a bookstore to buy a book. So, 6 out of 7 aren't going where our books are. We had Chicken Soup in a Shell station and a bakery. We put them anywhere people had to wait - doctors offices, salons, etc. We sold hundreds of thousands that way. We went to Petco and Petsmart with our book about pets. We use blogs.

Have other speakers sell your books. Sell their books as well. That way you have more to offer.

Think of things I can do for others and what they can do for me. 99% of our stories are written by others. Many have a third or fourth author. I make less per book, but we have another seller.

Watch The Secret. Twenty-four speakers are in that movie. Later became a book. They all cross promoted. Since several biggies were recommending it to their contacts and people were getting it recommended repeatedly from people they respected, many watched it.

Harrison: Give us a key lesson to remember and act upon:

1) Write a great book. Learn the craft, get feedback.
2) Learn how to market books. (Go to the programs. Sit at the feet of the masters. Learn more to earn more.) I spent half of my early money on attending seminars. Become a master. Invest in your education to become a master marketer.

Steve Harrison and Jack Canfield are currently promoting a seminar they'll be doing. You can find information at:

Appealing to Publishing Trends

Whether you're seeking publication or marketing your book, recognizing trends can be important. Know what's hot. If everybody's concerned about the current economic crisis (the current hot topic), then tell a publisher how your book can help those financial hurting or worried about impending economic doom. If you're marketing a book, tell a newspaper or magazine how your expertise could help.

To learn about trends, I listened to respected editor Nancy Hancock's (who works for a major publisher) presentation at the Maui Writers Conference. No, I wasn't able to attend. I just went to their site and signed up for a month of free audios. Now I get to hear top authors and industry professionals via my mp3 player!

Here are some of my takeaways:

You need power to get published.
  • Get a good agent. That empowers you.
  • Work on your platform to gain more power. Build your website. Get your e-mail list together. The bigger your platform, the greater your power.
  • Work with meaningful people. Hancock believes in the 6th degree of separation. She pays attention to a manuscript if a best-selling author recommends it. Very few books get published without someone helping you. Meaningful people give you power.
  • Study collaboration. Learn from successful collaborators.
  • Trends also give you power. Here's how:
Most editors get fifty to 100 proposals per day. They're also editing something that's in process for production, perhaps 12 or more books. They also talk to agents and authors. Plus, they have 8-10 hours of meetings per week. So, they read proposals on weekends.

To get a busy editor's attention, tie your book to a trend.

You're either following a trend or creating a trend. Trend cycles tend to be 7 years. There are trends for topics and trends for formats -- Big books, tips books, etc. Dummies books were hot, but not as much now. There are language trends. Think of the trends: "Diaries" books, "Confessions" books, "Insiders Guides."

To discover trends, try clipping. Hancock and a famous publicist read magazines and newspapers and clip out phrases and topics that might indicate trends. Then, they paste them on a board to track and observe them. If you read a variety of publications, you'll begin to see trends as the same phrases keep popping up.

Trends impact the degree of expertise needed. On morning shows (at the moment Hancock speaks), everyone has to be an M.D. or Ph.D.

Read news magazines and several different papers -- a regional paper, then the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. The WSJ is often the best indicator of trends because of what they feature. She discovered a potty training trend from a Wall Street Journal article.

There are financial trends: from day trading to flipping houses to what's next.

Historical trends. We recently experienced DaVinci fever. But after it peaked, it went away.

We've gone from simplicity to gratitude to happiness to volunteerism.

Find something that's all your own, but show how it fits into existing trends.

On Contracts and The Authors Guild

Want to keep from getting screwed over by a publisher? Consider the Authors Guild.

We've all heard horror stories of popular writers or musicians who make their publishers and labels rich while they live with mom and survive on Ramen Noodles. What happened? They were probably so delighted to get published or produced that they were willing to sign almost anything. And besides, they're artists - you know - "art for art's sake" and all that. It seems rather unartistic to haggle about a few words in a contract. As a result, they got a lousy contract that keeps them working at McDonald's when they could be making a living with their writing.

Like it or not, there's a business side to writing. And unless you aspire to study publishing law on the side, you'd probably benefit by having someone with experience in publisher contracts to look yours over before signing on the dotted line.

A writer friend recently received an offer from a publisher and immediately sent the contract to the Authors Guild. (They'll give input on contracts as a free service to their members. Annual membership is about $90, I believe.) Input from their staff attorney was detailed and invaluable, reflecting an intimate knowledge of what's standard and what's not in the industry, and what you want to push for as an author.

Example: the attorney mentions that royalties based on the publisher's "receipts" is referring to net-based royalties, which are about half what you'd get from the same percentage of list-based royalties. Thus, you should expect your publisher to offer about twice the percentage in net-based royalties that they would pay in list-based royalties.

Plus, when a publisher bases the author's cut on receipts, the publisher might give special discounts to certain distributors or sellers, putting more money in their hands and less in the author's.

That's not to say that basing royalties on the publisher's receipts is wrong. (My traditional publisher based its royalties on their net, or receipts.) It just means you need to know exactly what you're getting out of the deal, comparing it to industry standards.

What are the standards? According to the above expert, many authors get 8% of the list price (which would be about 16% of the net) for sales of the first 150,000 copies and 10% for copies sold above 150,000 (about 20% of the net).

A change in the wording of one, brief sentence in a writer's contract could easily have you making twice as much income from a book. So know what you're getting into!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

DePoy On Writing

Yesterday, the Georgia Writers Association hosted Phillip DePoy, director of theater for Clayton State University. DePoy has written nine published books, two published plays, and thirty-seven theater pieces that have seen production throughout the country. Kirkus calls Phillip DePoy, "a master of Southern storytelling." A recent reviewer called his Fever Devilin novels "some of the best regional fiction being written in America today."

His latest book is The Drifter's Wheel: A Fever Devilin Novel (Fever Devlin)

More convincing than all the above ad copy is that my wife Cherie bought a copy of his latest book and couldn't turn out the light until she finished it at 1:00 this morning.

I almost didn't attend, reasoning, "I've heard the guy before...and after all, I write nonfiction." But I'm glad I went. I'm always glad I attend these monthly meetings. Why?

First, it's simply fun to hang out with other writers. I chatted with a successful history writer and a fantasy writer who's on page 500 of her fantasy novel. I also met a corporate communications writer, a beginning novelist and a Hospice chaplain writing stories about his encounters with the dying. One of the writers grew up in Germany and had a personal encounter with Adolf Hitler in her classroom!

Second, we all need each other. One writer needed an editor and found one at the meeting. Another needed encouragement to move forward with a project. I think he came away motivated and encouraged! I needed more inside information on the business of writing. A conversation afterward helped. Young authors don't seem to understand that so much of successful writing involves relationships within the writing industry. This is the place to connect.

Third, I always learn something from the presenters. Here were some of my takeaways from DePoy:

1) Overcome rejection. Publishers rejected the manuscript of his first novel over 5,000 times.

2) Get an agent. You'll need one to get a traditional publisher. Ideally, your agent should live in New York City, so that she hangs out with editors and takes them to lunch. It's all about relationships. So the editor mentions between bites of her bagel, "What we'd really like are a few intriguing memoirs." The agent replies, "Hey, I represent an author who's three quarters of the way finished with his memoir. Would you like to take a look?" That's the way deals happen.

3) "I write every day. I wrote this morning before I drove up from Atlanta." He says that only a small percentage of what he writes gets published. But put out the volume, and some of it will get out there.

4) To sharpen your story-telling skills, study the ancient stories and epic fables that have passed the test of time. What are their characteristics? Basically, the great stories are being told over and over, dressed up with different characters, settings and distinct voices. Study the stories that lasted and you'll improve your own stories. (George Lucas did this and used the results in creating Star Wars.)

5) Sum up your manuscript in three intriguing sentences. Publishers go through hundreds of proposals each day. They may read but a few sentences of most of them. If he likes those sentences, he may read more. If he likes your proposal, he will use those sentences to pitch it to the marketing department. Then the marketing department will use those sentences to sell it to bookstores.

Did you miss your writer's meeting this month? Calendar the next one!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Importance of Amazon to Writers

The power of Amazon to sell books demands that authors consider it carefully in their publishing and marketing decisions.

According to Morris Rosenthal ( ), here's where some of the main book sales (includes media like CD's and DVD's) occurred in 2007 in North America: = $477 million
Borders/ Waldenbooks = $3.41 billion
Barnes & Nobel/ B. Dalton = $4.68 billion = $4.63 billion

Perhaps more significant is the growth in sales from 2006 to 2007:

Borders/ Waldenbooks = 0% = 9%
Barnes & Nobel/ B. Dalton = 4% = 23%

If this growth rate continues, I'd assume that 2008 figures will show Amazon far outselling each of the primary booksellers. If this trend continues, Amazon will only increase in importance to book sellers.

  1. Make sure that your publisher will offer your book on Amazon with a "Buy" button.

  2. Know the percentage that you will get from each Amazon sale. If it's negotiable, consider pushing for a higher percentage of Amazon sales in your contract. The difference can dramatically impact your profits. I get 35% of each Amazon sale by publishing with Booksurge.

  3. Learn to take advantage of all the Amazon tools for authors. It's very difficult to control how bookstores carry and display our books. It's relatively easy to control many features of how our books are displayed on Amazon. In my last blog I discussed the book Sell Your Book on Amazon, by Brent Sampson. I love the way it lays out, step by step and simply, how to take advantage of all the author tools offered by Amazon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Selling Books on Amazon

Whether you self-publish, go with a traditional publisher, or something in between, you'll want to do everything possible to enhance your sales through Amazon.

I'm currently reading Sell Your Book on Amazon, by Brent Sampson. Buy it. It's easy to understand and walks you step by step through the Amazon tools that can make the difference between a book that never gets noticed and one that becomes a best-seller. And the best news is (for a cheapy like myself), most of the tools are absolutely free. And since "marketing techniques are only as valuable as the profits they generate," he ranks the Amazon tools from five star (only idiots wouldn't use this tool) to one star (only use this tool under special circumstances).

Here are my personal takeaways:

1. The easiest way to get your book on Amazon is either by getting published with a traditional publisher or going through a Print on Demand company that works with Amazon. That way, you'll probably receive higher royalties and won't have to continually mail copies to Amazon.

Here's how he runs the numbers. You're selling a book for $10 on Amazon. Amazon takes $5.50; you make $4.50. But additionally, you've got to pay to have your books shipped to you, then pay to ship them to Amazon. You can do the fulfillment yourself, or pay someone else, but you might easily end up with only $1.00 from each sale. From my personal experience with the print on demand company Booksurge, I receive 35% of the Amazon selling price and since they do the fulfillment, I don't have to fool with or pay for shipping.

2. Get distribution through both Ingram and Baker & Taylor. This gets you into bookstores and libraries. If you're going through print on demand, Booksurge distributes through Baker & Taylor. Lightning Source distributes through Ingram. Even if you did your own offset run, you might publish it through a print on demand publisher to get in with the big distributors and wholesalers. Make sure that you keep all the rights to your book, so that you can publish in multiple ways.

3. Do all the five star items well. Here are some of them:

  • Create an AmazonConnect account. Do this by logging into your regular Amazon account. (You have one if you've bought anything through Amazon using an approved credit card.) Go to
  • Build your author profile at . In your picture caption, mention the title of your book, your website, or whatever you wish to promote. It's a great promotional opportunity. Use your signature to brand yourself. It will go everywhere: your wiki, your blog, your reviews, etc. Most of the following are done through your author profile.
  • Put your domain names anywhere Amazon allows them.
  • Write enough reviews to become recognized as a top reviewer, especially concerning books in my genre.
  • Write Amazon Guides.
  • Make Listmania Lists. The more times your lists get reviewed the better.
  • Recommend Favorites. Network with other authors to recommend each other's books.
  • Review your Author Profile Page (choosing "everyone" from the drop down menu) to perfect your page for how everyone sees it.
  • Contribute to your blog.
  • Publish more books. "One of the best ways to sell more b ooks on Amazon is to publish more books," since much of your promoting doesn't have to be duplicated for each new book.
  • Comment on other Amazon blogs, particularly the most famous in your subject area or genre. Your plog will alert you to opportunities to respond to other's blogs. Readers of your blog love images first, links second, your text last.
  • List all of your books published with Amazon on your Bibliography.

By reading the book, you get in understandable detail exactly how to implement these tools in order to sell your book. Get it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Book Cover Design

Do you have input into your cover design? If so, perhaps some of these hints from my recent personal experience will help. I've been working with a designer for the past month, resulting in the front cover you see to the right.

1) Get recommendations and references. I found my present designer (Carole) through my wife (Cherie) who studied design under Carole at Kennesaw State University. Cherie liked her work, knew that she was easy to work with, and knew a publisher she'd done covers for. I think it's always safer to work from recommendations of satisfied customers.

2) Look at lots of book covers to determine what you like and don't like. Design has a lot to do with personal preference. One book I read on self-publishing bragged on his designer and emphasized the importance of achieving a professional look. Interestingly, I found his book cover to look rather unprofessional. Different strokes for different folks, I assume.

Especially look at other books published in your niche. Since I'm writing on personal finance, I looked at scores of covers in that field. By doing that, I realized that, for example, if I had the good-looking girl holding the money on the front or back cover (another potential design that Carole gave me), some might think she's the author. Many money authors have their pics prominently on the front or back.

3) Look for images that grab you. My favorite place to browse for stock photos is . So when I first met with Carole, I gave her the photo of the four students (actually five, of which she cut one out), which I felt would well represent the four students in my story. I also gave her the picture of the girl to the right Additionally, I gave her a professional picture of myself to put on the back cover. By providing her with pictures, she could design around them rather than having to start from scratch. Yet, I told her that if she didn't like the pictures, I wanted her to feel free to go any direction she wanted.

4) Bring your blurbs and text for the back cover. If you don't yet have blurbs, have her leave room for them and remind her to leave a copy that's not flattened (still able to be changed) so that you can make last minute changes.

When she shows you her first shot at it, take a printed copy and get as much input as you can. Carole said she'd first put together some ideas, then I could see what I thought about it and get back with her. After getting those first samples, I got input from fifteen or so people - my family, people at Cherie's work, and others.

Someone on a blog said this about getting input. I find it to be true:

If you ask one person for an opinion; you get theirs.
If you ask two people for an opinion; you get confused.
But, if you ask a BUNCH of people for an opinion; you start to form your own.

First, there are objective factors that need attending to. These are the tips that don't have to do with personal preference.
  • "The subtitle words are much too small. I could hardly see them."
  • "Did you notice that this word is misspelled?"
Second, there is the subjective input, which is largely a matter of taste.
  • "The girl holding the money reminds me of a prostitute."
  • "I can see that guy's crotch a bit too much. It seems offensive."
  • "The four young people look like they're trying too hard to be fashionable."
  • "I like the way they dress."
  • "The four students look too posed. I prefer the girl."
  • "The font of "enjoy" is rather hard to read."
  • "I love the font of "enjoy".
  • "The girl looks too much like an infomercial, which people hate."
  • "The girl looks like an infomercial, which people obviously respond to."
  • "That deep color of red (on the first version) seems more professional than the lighter red with the girl."
I could go on and on with the subjective comments, which were all over the board. But I also knew that each of these opinions just might represent a lot of people, so I took each of them seriously. Many potential buyers might look and respond the same way.

They all agreed that the two designs were professional and well-done, but had specific, often contradictory suggestions and thoughts about which would be best.

On Getting the Maximum Input

I elicit input by telling people nothing when they first look at it, except that I want their honest opinion. I don't want to color their first impression. After they finish their spiel, I then mention other people's comments and my opinions to see if they agree or disagree or if that helps them come up with other ideas. Then I mention who I perceive as the target audience and ask how they think this audience might respond. This can bring a whole new range of reactions.

6) Don't overpay. Carole charged me $210 total. I don't believe I could have gotten a better cover paying someone thousands. That included designing several possible covers for me to choose from (she said that took her three hours total), meeting with me to get my input, finalizing the design of my choice with the seven or so adjustments I recommended, and a final meeting to approve the final design.

Compare this to a vanity-type publisher who told me their charges included a custom-designed interior layout and and custom designed full color cover for a $3,500 value. That's precisely what I'm getting for under $500.

Carole can charge less, partly because of low overhead. She works from her home instead of making payments on an office. She works for herself rather than paying an owner/manager a cut. She's also got steady work as a university professor, so that she's not desperate. And she likes to get work outside the university since the administration urges teachers to do a certain amount of outside work. So in your case you may wish to approach someone in graphic arts at your local university. If you're especially low on money, you may ask for a talented student who'll do it on the cheap to get something in her portfolio and resume. (We got a recent grad, Sara, to do our website design and have used her for years. She did my author site at, as well as our site at We couldn't be happier with her. Find her at . Again, extremely professional, yet low overhead working out of her home.)

7) Get Plenty of Mileage from Your Designs

So you've put all that work into a design that grabs people's attention makes you look professional...and you plan to use it only for your book cover? Are you kidding?!? Why not make a brochure, a cover and first chapter (with tear-off ordering information) to leave in waiting areas, a visual on your website and blog, a larger size for a display when you speak or do a book signing?

To have maximum maneuverability, make sure your designer leaves you with the flattened copy, an unflattened copy (like a .psd format for Photoshop), and makes the original large enough that it can be printed much larger without losing clarity.

If You're Working With a Traditional Publisher

For my first book, using a traditional publisher, they did it all. As I recall, I didn't have any say in it, although perhaps I could have had input if I'd requested it or specified my involvement in the contract. (In the end, I would have wanted to change one of the sentences on the back cover.) But I was very pleased with the look and it was, from the author's standpoint, effortless.

I'd love to compare your experiences with designers. Just add your comments below!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Write Feature Articles to Publicize Your Book

I just listened to a telephone seminar on this topic. Lots of useful information from successful writers and big-time magazine editors. Here are my takeaways:

1) Writing articles and getting mentioned in articles is powerful, free advertising.
  • People believe articles more than ads.
  • You're reaching readers, who are more likely than listeners to purchase a book.
  • The articles have lasting power. They can remain in doctor's offices or archives on websites.
  • You can use the article for blurbs "As mentioned in Womans Day Magazine."
  • You can attract other media people who may read the articles.
2) Know the magazine you're targeting and show them you know it. Most don't. Perhaps compare your article to a previously-written article in the magazine. Call to make sure you know who to address by name as the "Articles Editor." Ask if it's appropriate to follow-up with a call or e-mail.

3) Get to know media contacts personally. Time spent face-to-face can reap rich dividends. Make it a two-way street: How can I serve you?

4) Offer all the bells and whistles. They're busy and would love an interview format, with you asking your own questions, a side bar with five tips for a broad audience, etc.

5) Offer yourself as an expert who can either provide the information or give them someone who can. Are you a life coach, psychologist, pet expert, etc.? They're always looking for experts to interview and quote. They want to have relationships with as many experts as possible. How can I put myself forth as an expert in personal money management?
  • Have written a book on it.
  • Raising seven boys.
  • Worked with youth and trained youth-workers for 30 years, both nationally and internationally.
  • Write resources for educators.
  • Am an investor.
  • Have done noteworthy research and fresh interviews.
6) If they don't want your article, it's OK to ask, "Is there anyone else on staff who might want to see this article?"

7) Show yourself as one who knows how to consolidate concepts into sound bites. Give them a brief, catchy title, a descriptive subtitle and a brief summary.

8) Tie your book into current trends and news. One expert on how to prevent dog attacks goes to Google Alerts to automatically receive e-mail alerts from breaking news, videos, blogs, etc., about about dog attacks. He then contacts the press in that area to find if they want an article by an expert on how to prevent them in the future. Was there a recent study released on your topic of interest? Tie the study into the topic of your book and suggest an article. You don't have to make the news or be the news. Rather, piggy-back on what's already news.

9) Track the impact on your book sales on When a lady published an article concerning her book on caring for an Alzheimer's patient, she looked under the category "Alzheimer's" and found that she was #1.

10) Find a common link with someone important in the organization. One author wrote a book about succeeding without goals. He had heard that Oprah had succeeded without setting goals, so he contacted her to let he know he'd written a book on it. She was fascinated and interviewed him.

11) Keep learning about your niche, so that you become that most respected person for the press to call upon when they need an expert.

12) Send notes of appreciation to reporters when they've written a good, substantive article in your field.
If they respond, offer them a copy of your book, your web address and phone number, letting them know that if they need you in the future, you're available. Say that if you don't know the answers, you'll refer them to an expert (This person refers to an expert about 50% of the time, getting him in good with the expert as well!)

13) Use e-mail to make your first contact with a magazine (or whatever method they request).

14) Think outside of the box concerning which magazines might be interested.
One author wrote a self-help book for young people getting jobs. She pitched an article to ESPN magazine (sports) with this angle: "How many people read your magazine because they love sports, don't have the athletic ability to compete, but would love to work in the sports industry? What about an article on all the ways to work in the sports industry? They took it! Concerning my money book, I could write for a sports magazine on how sports figures have lost their money and how to handle it more wisely.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Latest Book With BookSurge

Since printing and publishing are changing so rapidly during these revolutionary times for the industry, we're having to keep up with best and worst publishing practices on blogs and forums rather than books. We're trying to do our part by posting our experiences.

So here's my latest:

I couldn't be more pleased with BookSurge's reprint of the Spanish version of my music book - Debate de la Musica Cristiana Contemporanea. I marked my calendar June 18 as the day I mailed them a copy to scan. They advised me that there was a slight mark on the cover, so I sent them another copy, thus delaying the process several days.

Yesterday, July 9, I received their new copy for my approval. Except for having the name of our new publishing company on it (Wisdom Creek Press, LLC) and the copyright in my name instead of the old publisher, I couldn't tell any difference in quality or content between it and the original! Both the print and the cover were beautiful!

They say it will be live to order on Amazon within a week or two. I'll revise this article to reflect the actual date when it goes live.

I've not done a new book with BookSurge, but this reprinting of an out-of-print book is a snap. And to get all this printed and available at Amazon within a month?

They have also been very responsive to my e-mails and questions and have contacted me immediately when my book arrives with them, etc.

Author Copies

How much does it cost for me to purchase copies of my own books? Example: for a 250 page paperback book with a black and white interior and a list price of $15.99, I pay:

1-9 copies - $5.60 per book
10-50 copies - $4.80 per book
51+ copies - $4.16 per book

Sales Channels

Besides, they also will sell my book through, and . It will appear on and in approximately 2 - 3 weeks.

Bookstore Distribution

Distribution is offered through Baker and Taylor. That is set up free through BookSurge. Yet, there is no policy with the free account that bookstores can return unsold copies. A rep at Baker and Taylor told me that "retailers will not order a non-returnable title." A manager at Books-a-Million told me confirmed that he'd be reluctant to purchase anything that wasn't returnable.

A contact at BookSurge tells me that I can set up Baker and Taylor with a returnable policy for for about $250-$300 (more work on my part, but cheaper) if I work through them directly or through BookSurge for $600.

Galley Proofs

Some big-time reviewers will only look at Galley Proofs, since they want to get their reviews out prior to publication. But BookSurge doesn't offer a Galley Option. So I'm considering getting my early copies, ripping off the cover, and gluing on a temporary Galley-looking cover. Any other ideas to overcome this hurdle?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Book Review: Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter

Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book, 465 pages (Para Publishing, Santa Barbara, CA, Sixteenth Edition, 2007). Includes helpful glossary and index.

Since I'm moving toward self-publishing another book, I needed an education on the publishing process. Poynter fit the bill.

He writes with excellent qualifications: started publishing in 1969, has written over 120 books.

If you're interested in self-publishing, or just want to know more about the publishing process, get your own copy of this book and mark it up well. It has so much relevant content (think: hundreds of specifics you'll want to implement) that you'll want to refer back to it over and over as you work your way through the publication process.

Even if someone else is publishing your book, I'd highly advise studying this book and mapping out the process, since I hear horror stories of publishers who think their responsibility begins and ends with printing the book. Read this book, and you'll know what needs to be done, and when.

Example: many review organizations, which can be critical to the success of a book, won't look at published books. Understandably, they want to review galley proofs before the book is published, so that their reviews can alert bookstores, distributors, libraries, etc., of the latest books that people will be wanting. Since the greatest publicity for a book tends to come when it's initially published, review organizations don't want to put out a review three months after the main publicity has gone out. Plus, they need time to read and review the book.

If you miss these deadlines, you miss out on some valuable publicity. Poynter ends with a valuable timeline, which you can revise to account for all the specifics of your own book.

Content includes publishing options, writing and creating your manuscript, starting a publishing company, designing/layout/printing, announcing your book, pricing, promoting, understanding distribution channels, advertising, storage/packing/shipping, coping with being published.

In one sense, its overwhelming to see the hundreds of things I need to do to publish my book. I think, "Crap. Can't I just spend my time researching and writing and just ship it off to the printer? Now I've got to think about all this stuff."

On the other hand, it's freeing. Now I understand why so many good books don't get into people's hands. The publishing world works with rules that those outside the industry don't understand. Understanding the industry empowers us to get our books out to those who want them.

In order to deal with the feeling of bewilderment that comes with having hundreds of items on a to-do list, I'll start with Poynter's helpful "Calendar" of events in his appendix, personalizing it for the things I need to do for my book. After putting the to-do items in chronological order, I'll be responsible for only the items that I need to accomplish today, or at least this week.

Why not just delegate all this stuff? Poynter advises,

"Learn the entire business by doing everything yourself before you begin to farm out some
of the work, because doing it all yourself will provide you with a better understanding of publishing.

Another thought: After reading several books on publishing and marketing, I've discovered that these books aren't just parading out the same materials in different forms. Each book teaches me many new things about the process. Some concentrate on the process of getting your book well-positioned and marketed through Then there's the business of e-books. Concerning book marketing in general, the ideas are practically endless.

So keep reading about book publishing and marketing. Learn the process. We don't have to do everything they say. Even taking one great idea and running with it could revolutionize the impact of our next book.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Networking as Caring

I'm realizing more and more the power of networking for selling books. It especially hit home to me this weekend.

I attended a Webinar Thursday night by book marketing guru Brian Jud on Networking. I didn't set out to have a networking weekend, but it certainly turned out that way. Perhaps I was just more aware of what was going on because of the seminar.

Friday night, Cherie and I traveled an hour north to the little town of Dalton, to celebrate a friend's college graduation. We weren't going to network; we were simply honoring a friend. When we got there, we weren't "working the room;" we were trying to spend time with as many people as we could. Someone introduced us to a person who was filling the pulpit for their church. I'd wanted to meet the fellow, since I'd heard that we had some things in common. I think we were a good contact for him since he was toying with getting more into writing. Then he introduced his girlfriend. I politely asked what she did and she responded,

"I work at Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in PR."

"Funny thing," I said. "I've been thinking that Wal-Mart might like to carry my new book on finances, especially since I mention Sam Walton (Wal-Mart's founder) in the book in some very positive ways (good PR for Wal-Mart)."

She went on to explain to me how to get in touch with the people that make those buying decisions for Wal-Mart, encouraged me to speak to the manager of my local Wal-Mart, and gave me other invaluable, insider tips. She gave me her card and I filed it away in my new networking notebook. "What an incredible contact!" I told Cherie afterwards. "What if Wal-Mart decided to carry my book!

Saturday afternoon I took Paul and David (my middle school twins) to Trade-N-Play, where they trade video games. I always chat with the owner and ask him questions, because he's simply a nice guy and has great wisdom about business and life. I mentioned my latest book on finances for young people and he was thrilled!

"Sure, I'd love to take a look at it and consider selling it in my store," he responded. He was full of stories about his concerns about people overspending and ruining their financial lives. His young associate heard our excitement and wanted to know if he could get a copy to review as well.

If he takes it and it sells well, isn't it possible that the entire chain would consider carrying it?

Today, Sunday, Cherie reconnected with a college buddy at church, who had a friend with her. I asked the friend what she did, and she responded that she was entering the art department at KSU. I asked if she liked to doodle and draw cartoon characters, since I was considering a short cartoon series to go along with my book. She did that type drawing and was thrilled at the prospect. We traded cards.

Now these are three remarkable contacts made in three days by a guy who doesn't get out much, since I care for my ailing dad and 102-year-old granny. Any one of these contacts could easily lead to significant book sales. It caused me to reflect on the power and principles of networking. Some stray thoughts:

#1 - Always, always carry business cards and a pen. I didn't have a card in Dalton. Fortunately, others were better networkers than me, offering their cards. You never know who you'll run across.

#2 - Never forget that some of your greatest contacts are neighbors down the street, people sitting next to you at church, the person pumping iron next to you in the gym, the teen taking your order at Arby's. You don't have to hop a flight to the convention in LA to start networking. It's a lot cheaper to welcome your new neighbor with a batch of peanut butter cookies.

#3 - Always take a genuine interest in other people. I didn't go to any of these meetings to get something. I didn't meet them in order to see if they had something to offer. I went to Dalton to honor a friend. I went to Trade-N-Play to be with my kids. I went to church to worship God.

#4 - Get used to asking simple questions of people, like
  • "What do you do for a living?"
  • "What do you do for fun?"
After they respond, ask them more about these areas of interest, like:
  • What fascinates you about that job or activity?
  • How long have you been doing that?
As simple as this seems, very few people do it. Very, very few ask me about my work and interests. Consumed with their own world and concerns, they can't seem to take an interest in other people's world and concern. And they miss out on so much fun in the process!

Don't feign friendship to make a contact. People can smell a selfish phony a mile away. I really care about those people. That's why I ask about their lives rather than spout off about my own life.

Genuine caring sprinkles pixie-dust on casual conversations, transforming them into into something magical. Fascinating things bubble up - connections I never imagined, ideas that that change my course, services I was looking for.

I read a marketing professional lately who stated something like, "Networking is simply a new term for an old practice that we used to call caring."

Well put.

As we care enough to find out about other people's interests and find ways to serve them, we find the ideas and connections we need to move forward with our own interests. Sounds strikingly similar to "give and you shall receive," a biblical concept that proves its worth anew in each generation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How I Plan to Earn $2000 More with my Writing this Year

I plan to save $1500. That's it.

No, the difference in numbers isn't a typo. Let me explain.

Money management gurus drive home the need to curtail spending. They often put it this way:

"A dollar saved equals two dollars earned."

Here's their angle: If you want to net $1 more through writing this year, you can do it in one of two ways:

#1: Earn an extra $2. If you're in a higher tax bracket, half of those earnings will disappear in the form of taxes, leaving you with your $1.

#2: Save $1. You keep it all. The IRS doesn't tax savings.

Now I'm not in a high tax bracket, so let's imagine that for me, $1500 saved equals $2000 earned.

The amazing thing is that the way I'm saving won't hurt me at all. It's not like I'm committing to eat Ramen Noodles for the rest of the year, or cutting my marketing budget. I simply compared prices on some of my services and winged better deals.

My primary savings came from changing my merchant account (the company that processes my credit cards for online purchases of my writing.) Cherie had been complaining for some time that too much of our earnings were being eaten up by our merchant account. I'd always respond, "Well, you know we compared before we got the service several years ago. I guess it just costs a lot."

But when they said they decided to charge us $40 more per month (ostensibly in order to serve us better!), I fired up my calculator and began asking around about the top merchant services. One ministry said they had changed merchants every two years, because companies would advertise a killer rate, inching up to an exorbitant rate before you knew what had hit you. He ended up with PayPal. I'm making the change, which should save me about $1200 per year. (Before the increase, they were charging us over six times the amount that PayPal charges for the same service!)

I've also found that you can bargain with Internet Service Providers. Mine was charging me about $70 per month for DSL wireless (allowing me about five computers to access). I got an advertisement in the mail that said I could get a competing service for about $45 per month. But I didn't want to go through the hassle of changing (change e-mail addresses, etc.). So I called my provider and said, "I like you guys, but your competitor is offering me the same service for $45 per month."

"We can beat that," he said. So immediately I began saving another $300 per year.

In my book on personal finance, I quote the CEO of Wherehouse Music as saying,

"Manage costs, not revenue. And remember that there is no such thing as a fixed cost."

Cutting costs frees up writers to take the assignments and write the books we're passionate about, rather than having to always go for the best paying. Extend this to paying less for houses, cars, etc., and you'll be that much closer to making a decent living from your writing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On Writers and Their Websites

As a writer, I own and operate several Websites. It's one of the best things I've ever done, since now I have over 1000 individuals visiting my sites each day. The sites give me both income and busy places to tell people about my books. Two of my sites are and .

If you're into writing for the long-haul, you'll probably find yourself needing an author site, a site for one of your books, a site on the topic of your books, and sites for other purposes. Over 10+ years of working with Websites, I've learned a few things. For one, many people spend way too much for their sites. Here are a few tips on where to find a place to build your site (Web Hosts).

I'm recommending that you set up your sites as cheaply as possible. (If you're independently wealthy, read no further. Just find a top-notch Web designer and shell out the bucks. But even then, I'd comparison shop, or you won't be wealthy for long!) I'll start with the most cheap (free) and move all the way to less cheap (about $5.00 per month).

1) You can get a free site through Google with no ads on it, and it might be just fine if all you want is an online brochure to direct people to on your business card. (Search "google g-mail." and sign up for a free g-mail account. Now, look at your g-mail account information and click on the "google pages" link.)

But Google Pages is new and has its limitations. As I write, people are having problems connecting their custom Web address (url) to it, so that I don't think you could have (substitute your book name or author name or the topic of your site) as your Web address. I'd want my own distinct Web address so that people can find me easier. It also looks more professional.

Also, you may have trouble expanding if you want to do e-commerce (sell stuff to people using credit cards) or databases.

But if all you need is a cheap, online brochure (you can make it very professional if you like), this is one way to go. It's got online tools to help you build a simple site, so that you don't have to learn a daunting program like DreamWeaver.

2) You can get a free site through places like, but they'll feature ads on your site. If you don't mind having ads, then Tripod might be a good choice. They've been offering sites longer than Google and have more helpful tools.

3) Going to paid servers, there are lots of great, cheap options. A good place to find reviews of servers and comparisons of prices and features is . (Click "web hosting" on their left menu.) I pay $5.00 per month for each of my sites, which have tons of people coming to them and hundreds of pages of materials. I'm probably using less than 5% of the space I could be using.

I'm considering for a new site I want to build, primarily because they have a very cute Indy race driver on their home page. Besides this nice feature, they've got 24/7 support, lots of space, lots of free ad-ons (blog, etc.). Domains are cheap through them (c. $9.99 and under per year) and Web space is under $5 per month. I'll also compare , but their alligator picture isn't nearly as cute as the racing chick.
I think both of these hosts give you tools to easily build a simple site using templates and their own tools, so that you don't have to invest in software like Macromedia DreamWeaver or Microsoft Expression Web, which are getting more complicated to use because of stuff like Cascading Style Sheets (don't even ask!)

If you decide later to get fancy with the site, like adding e-commerce or databases, these sites support this stuff and you can continue moving forward.

These servers often have stock images you can use. But I absolutely love . Offering over 3 million images (and growing wildly!), easy to search and only $1 per small photo (you don't need huge images for the Web), I always find what I need. Don't copy people's images from the Web (like searching Google Images and randomly copying). People who do this are partly responsible for "starving artists' syndrome." Feed good photographers by purchasing their pics.

If you just need a simple site with attractive information about your books and services, don't spend big bucks. Fool around with some of these inexpensive options. If you need help, enlist your children or a college student studying Web design who desperately needs some experience on his/her resume. If it still doesn't look as professional as you'd like, offer a graphic designer who does good work (look at her portfolio on the Web) and works out of her home (low overhead) a couple of hundred dollars to "take what I've got and make it look more professional."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recovering from English 101 Trauma

Think back to your early English and Writing Classes. How have those experiences shaped your writer image? Maybe more than you think.

So Cherie and I were listening to some tapes on writing by seasoned writers Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. One of them described a former student who was perhaps the best writer she had ever taught. Yet, the student couldn't believe that she was actually a good writer. Why? Because her English teachers in high school commented solely on grammatical errors.

Imagined example: she pours her heart into a story and eagerly awaits a morsel of praise from her teacher. Instead, she sees, scrawled in red, "You still don't understand the proper usage of the semicolon."

OK. Useful point. But beyond the semicolon travesty, was the paper interesting, funny, creative, heart-felt? In the final analysis, aren't those aspects more predictive of a great writer than proper semicolon placement? Why then aren't those aspects more often pointed out and rewarded?

I suppose it's easier and more objective to count up the grammatical mistakes, subtract from 100 and assign a grade. But editors can provide semi-colon assistance. And no acquisitions editor ever, in the history of publishing, excitedly presented a manuscript to her superiors with the glowing remark, "this author's semicolon placement is unsurpassed."

I typically hated writing in school. It was all about not making mistakes; seldom, if ever, about being funny or informative (did I use that semicolon correctly?). So let's try to get over the damage done to our writing esteem by the grammar police.

Some of the most creative and entertaining writing I see these days are in newspaper vents, unedited blogs, and informal movie and book reviews. I applaud their daring. Writing with no editor is akin to streaking - running with no clothes. Scary, but strangely freeing.

Go ahead. Blog, e-mail, write movie reviews on Amazon, express your opinions, just for the fun of writing. Let the grammar police cringe, grind their teeth and rail against the rampant unprofessionalism. I'm just excited that so many people are writing their thoughts, their jokes, their stories, their passions.