This week's entry is from our Social Networking Genius extraordinaire, Steve (Stephanie) Nilles, who holds down the fort on Tweeting and Facebooking, Pinteresting and other "stuff" over at Booknook.biz, and has taught me all I know about Twitter, et al. She will be guest blogging for me while I recover from a shoulder problem, and to provide a different perspective than I usually have. Take it away, Steve:
I'm not an agent, publisher, or aspiring novelist. I'm a working musician. About a year and a half ago, while taking a month-long break from the road, I happened upon part-time work for a well-established and traditionally published mystery writer who was just starting her own e-pub company. I have since edited manuscripts and provided marketing assistance for an ebook producer, as well as for mystery, science fiction, romance, children's books, and nonfiction authors, ranging from the seasoned and well-known to the obscure writer pushing his very first novel. Predictably, my work in publishing has drawn enlightening parallels to my work in the music business. In short, publishing seems to be about 20 years behind the music industry, at least in terms of adjusting to a preference for digital. And as an outsider temporarily peering into a world of energetic bordering on frantic writers and publishers, I've found the clamoring for the magical marketing plan that will give birth to the next Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, or John Locke to be … amusing.
The obvious explanation for what now makes being a musician or author nearly impossible is that “everyone can do it.” Perhaps screenwriter Aaron Sorkin put it best in a particularly wry interview: Interviewer: "Look, I don't want to step on your toes, you don't want to step on mine. We're both writers." Sorkin: "Yes, I suppose, if we broaden the definition to those who can spell."
As technology provides limitless tools for distribution, self-promotion, and even production of the artform itself, the internet has, as Mark Bowden puts it, "replaced everyman with every man." From art of every medium to the once revered science of journalism, press critic A.J. Liebling's 1960s fear of a dystopia with only one newspaper, "a city with one eye," has been replaced by a city with a million eyes.
Much like a writer, when I tell a stranger that I am a "musician," I'm painfully aware that my self-proclaimed title conjures up images of a dramatic and self-medicated kid, sulking in her bedroom and writing break up ballads in her diary. I am a 28-year-old that has spent 23 years playing music, 15 of those years nearly 5-10 hours a day. I'm on the road 8 months out of the year. I play 150 gigs a year. So imagine my displeasure at sharing the semantics of a vocation with an overnight YouTube sensation who recorded a 4 song EP in a basement with a Fisher Price tape recorder.
My 28 years notwithstanding, I think I've amassed an interesting cross section of experience witnessing the worlds of music-making as well as book publishing, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that what works in music works in publishing--whether you're writing what one of my clients calls The Great American Novel or the next paranormal romance Kindle millionaire-maker. If we define "success" as "consistently selling books" (and I have yet to find a better definition), the most successful authors I've worked for have one and only one thing in common: they spend all of their time writing more books. And each book is better than the one that came before it.
Sure, there are marketing shortcuts. But the old adage "live by the media, die by the media" rings true. About a year ago, I was helping with the marketing of a very cute and unique mystery with a chick lit bent. A genre book with a fascinating twist, it seemed a marketing no-brainer. We pushed social media, tried various angles to introduce it to target readers on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. Paid promotions resulted in temporary boosts of sales from 20 to the hundreds overnight. We ran a genre-specific blog tour. All these contributed, over time, to 50-plus amazon reviews at an average of 4.6 stars, and to positive reviews in a couple of publications we did not pitch to with an ideal readership demographic. As marketing boons calmed down, the book settled at selling 20-30 books a day. At first. We've continued to push the book via social media and advertisements, but six months later, the author has written nothing new. And its sales have dwindled to 1-2 books a day.
Contrast this with a literary black comedy that was released around the same time. Although beautifully written, it seemed it would be difficult to market, as it fit into no overt niche. But the marketing plan employed has been similar to the one outlined above. The book currently has 20-some amazon reviews with a 4.8 star average and is consistently selling 15-30 books a day. Why? It is the author's eighth book, and she has since written and published two others, each as beautifully-written as the eighth. And press procured for the most recent books, whether solicited or not, have markedly boost sales of all other books.
There are other attractive shortcuts and marketing go-tos. Launching a KDP Select Free Campaign, if done so correctly can help an indie author to the tune of thousands of free downloads a day, with fall off of a noticeable boost in sales. One popular thriller author I’ve worked for has had a good deal of success with handfuls of free days, which boost the sales of the other books in that particular series, as well as their Amazon rankings. But I've never seen this sales boost last longer than a week, and I've never seen the sales numbers exceed 20 in a day. I should also note that the writer I mentioned, an Edgar and Macavity nominee, has to date written 12 books across 3 series, spanning 20-odd years. And he’s still producing new work.
Paid promotions at least guarantee that your book will make some sort of appearance on a website, as opposed to investing exhaustive time into submitting your book to bloggers for review--they almost never review your book, let alone respond to your request, and even when they say they will, they almost always forget, or by the time your book is scheduled to reach the top of their queue, their blog will have mysteriously disappeared... I've seen some Kindle sites' paid promotions generate tens to hundreds of sales overnight, but victory is perpetually a flash in the pan. Sales always die down to where they were previously within the week.
Best-selling author Kristen Lamb addresses the importance of writers focusing on writing in her blog entry The Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors. "Even in traditional publishing," she says, "it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule. In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge part of why John Locke became successful." Lamb also discusses the dangers of self-publishing before an author is ready, jumping in before understanding basic business principles, and misusing free campaigns.
In both music and publishing, there’s something to be said for distinguishing between adapting to change and reinventing the wheel. Artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors that prove to be successful long term require long, hard work. No amount of technological innovation is likely to erase this axiom. Yet whenever I’m asked to begin working with a new author, I’m repeatedly amazed at his or her inability to grasp the concept of patience. Writer and publisher Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses this in terms of self-publishing, specifically: “The readership—and the income—will grow exponentially if the writer continues to produce work. One day, the indie writer will wake up and realize she’s making $1,000 per month on a single title, and that amount spread out over a year is more than she would have gotten as an advance for a first novel … If she’s a good storyteller (and her book has a decent cover and is copy edited, and if she keeps writing and publishing new material), she’ll make a living wage over time.” Rusch even goes on to suggest that promotion in publishing, be it in the traditional or indie realm, is utterly pointless: “I buy [books] because of word-of-mouth, just like every other reader on the planet. That’s why traditional publishers only spend advertising dollars on the bestsellers. They’re not informing you of a new writer. They’re letting you know that a favorite writer has a new book. They’re relying on word-of-mouth and habit. So indie writers who promote their book instead of writing the next book are wasting their time. The more books you’ve written, the more books you’ll sell. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked.”
Thanks, Steve. For those of you that like jazz, our Steve is a smokin' musician. Warning: ADULT lyrics and music, don't go to the page with your kids in the room, but her lyric, "facebook is a gateway drug to stalking" should be used in a bestselling novel! Visit her site at: http://www.stephanienilles.com , and will start work on her new Album in about 3 weeks.