Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Hope you all enjoyed recess. Class is now back in session. This is Rant 2 of 2 on authors behaving badly on social media, and thank you again to everyone who wrote to me with your experiences and pet peeves. It’s really put this into perspective for me. If you missed Rant 1, check it out here: Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side.

And now we commence Rant 2 of 2…

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Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

It started so innocently… A fellow author sent me a private message saying, “You should write a blog about people behaving unprofessionally on social media!” And because I have seen more of that than I ever cared to, I thought it’d be a great idea. But I didn’t want to be airing just my own grievances, so I asked for input from my network. Boy, that was one scary can of worms I opened… But it showed me that this is an important topic that no one seems to want to talk about because it might ruffle feathers. Well, I have my feather ruffler in hand and, by George, I am going to talk about this!

*slaps ruler against teacher’s desk*

Everyone back in your seats. That means you, Charlie. And Theresa, put that away; no one wants to see that. Joe, I swear, if you don’t pull your pants back up right now… That’s better. Boys and girls, class is now in session. And yes, all of this will be on the test.

Commence Rant 1 of 2…

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So how are you doing?

Raise your hand if you look at your real time sales numbers multiple times a day.

Raise your hand if you actually do something with those sales numbers.

Educated guess: Most published authors who have access to real time sales data check it at least once a day. Very few of those authors will actually get something out of that data, aside from a momentary spike in blood pressure and a mood swing. This is a problem not just for authors, or business professionals, but for everyone in every walk of life. We are inundated with so much data on a daily basis we’re drowning in it. What we need to be doing is converting that data into information we can use in a practical way, and that’s tough to do when you don’t know where to start. So here’s where you start (brace yourself, this will be rather long):

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On Get Rich Quick Schemes

I was scrolling Facebook yesterday and came across an ad promoting a workshop that will tell you how to write a book in 40 hours (not a typo) and double, quadruple, even decuple (multiply by ten) your income (also not a typo). For privacy reasons, I won’t share the actual post, but if you’re in any way involved in the writing world and active on social media, you’ve likely seen any number of these ads already.

Is what they’re promoting physically possible? Well, typing non-stop for 40 hours at the average typing speed of 40 words per minute, you would get about 96,000 words. This does not include typos, editing, backspacing, breaks, or any kind of thought or planning process. It is literally just typing words non-stop.

A couple things you can accomplish this way:

  • manually copy an existing manuscript
  • write absolute nonsense in 96,000 words

Given the parameters, I feel 99% confident that the only one making money will be the guy people pay to take this workshop.

Here’s the thing: Writing never was and never will be a get rich quick scheme. Writing a book takes time. It takes time to come up with an idea. It takes time to research it properly. It takes time to learn the technical aspects of how a book should look (to say nothing of the nuances of voice, style, etc.), and it takes time to properly convey all those ideas onto the page. This is as true for fiction as it is for non-fiction. Is it possible to churn out a draft in a relatively short amount of time? Absolutely. But the less time the first draft takes, the more time you’ll likely spend in rewrites and edits. Ask any writer out there how long it takes them to get a book from the “chapter 1” caption to final publishing. Depending on the book’s length, it’ll be anywhere between a few months to a couple of years, because that’s what it takes to put together a good quality book.

As for the doubling of income, I have to assume this was a hyperbole meant to heighten interest and get people signing up, because… no. Assuming an average eBook price of about $4.99, and an average royalty rate of 60%, let’s say, you’d have to sell about 1,400 copies every month consistently to make a decent living, and I’m here to tell you that anything having to do with the sale of a non-essential product will never, ever be consistent. And if you’re thinking to sell hard copies instead, since they are priced higher,  your profit margin on those will go from a few dollars per copy to a few cents. There’s a reason hard copies usually cost more: they come with an immense production cost that eBooks simply don’t have.

I’ve taken a number of these free seminars on “how to make money as a writer” and the three things they all have in common are:

  1. they are mathematically impossible, given the unit pricing required to sell a book of fiction (or even non-fiction)
  2. they require you to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising on a continuous basis.
  3. they usually end on a sales pitch, hawking additional, ridiculously expensive workshops on the secret sauce recipes the “teacher” only introduced in this free part. I’m talking to the tune of $100s to $1,000s for that inside access.

The truth is, no matter how they are packaged, no matter how cool the ad looks, or how enticing the charts and graphs look, all of the ads I have seen to date are nothing but a scam to get your money. Trust me, if there was a proven formula for success, everyone would be doing it, rendering it obsolete. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, and caution is always advised with “how to” courses. If it looks too good to be true, it is.

There are much better ways to spend your hard-earned money:

  1. Take subject-specific college courses related to your writing. History, mythology, science, political science, or music can all help for fiction books.
  2. Travel to the places you want to describe in your book to get first-hand knowledge of it so you’ll know how the air smells there after a storm, or what species of birds are the first ones to start singing in the morning. Those are the kinds of details that give a book depth.
  3. Study business, so you’ll better understand the money side of writing, and how to budget your money so you don’t go broke. This also includes marketing classes to learn about advertising, how to speak to your target audience, or even identifying your target audience.
  4. Hire a professional editor and cover artist to polish up your book to a shine. You know you will need them, so plan ahead of time and start saving for these expenditures while you’re writing your book. It’ll help you avoid sticker shock when the time comes.
  5. Learn to shop around for the things you need to spend money on. Try to avoid impulse buys. If you find one thing that would be great, odds are, there are ten more out there just as great or better, and probably cheaper, too.

There are also much better ways to spend your time:

  1. Work on your book. If you need a kick in the pants, find a writer’s group, or a writing buddy to get encouragement and support.
  2. Try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): A national challenge in November of every year to write 50,000 words in 30 days. A much more achievable goal than a whole book in 40 hours, don’t you think?
  3. Make friends with other writers, learn from their trials and hardships, get advice on things you’re struggling with (but don’t expect them to do the work for you).
  4. Build your platform early on by making a website and building up a social media following. This, too, will take time, and is absolutely necessary and worth it.
  5. Read. Read in your genre, and outside of it. Read the bestsellers, and the Indies. Read to enjoy, but also notice the nuances of what makes you like the book, and what makes you hate it. That’s how you learn your own style, and improve your own writing.

The information shared here is meant to be a guiding hand to new and aspiring authors, and is offered with a grain of salt and good intentions at no cost to you. However, if you found this post helpful and want to show your appreciation, a nice way to do it would be to buy one of my fiction books. Check them out on my author website at AlianneDonnelly.com. You might find something you like. 😉 Thanks for your support!

Business Owners, Take Notes: FORBES Article

I’m looking at you, authors. Whether you’re self-published or not, as soon as that first book hits the shelves, you are a small business owner. You should know the ins and outs of the industry in which you work, but you should also have a working knowledge of the basics of business. Cash flow, profits and losses, budgeting, income and expense, and taxes are just the tip of the iceberg. A vast majority of authors don’t like to, or don’t want to admit that what they’re involved in is as much business as it is art.

Most of us don’t want to deal with the business side of things. Most of us went into writing and/or art to avoid anything business related to begin with. Unfortunately, unless you’re publishing your work for free, there’s no avoiding it.

I’m sharing this Forbes article on The 13 Money Mistakes Most Business Owners Continue To Make because it’s beautifully relevant to authors if you just tweak a few definitions. Pay special attention to the theme of working smarter rather than harder, and investing in what will grow your business the most. Which also means knowing what will grow your business the most. As an author, your focus should be on writing and connecting with readers. The rest, you should leave to professionals. Yes, that means investing your hard-earned money, but trust me, it’s ultimately worth it.

The REAL Picture Ain’t Always Rosy

This article came out in 2012, with statistics from a self-published book world survey saying that about half of all self-published authors make less than $500 per year from book royalties. Now, keep in mind that this was five years ago, right about the time when the self-publishing boom peaked. Things have changed quite a bit since then and, while inspiring stories of success still abound, the hard, ugly truth is that there are now more independent authors, and more books getting published on a daily basis than ever before, which further reduces the odds of any one book making it big. The landscape of stores and distributors has changed as well. As always, Amazon still dominates both the market place and the discussion, with its ever-expanding reach into different aspects of the publishing world, but keep in mind the eBook industry is international, and current events in foreign countries will also play a role in the success of a book or author.

In many ways, the bleak statistics from the article make sense, given that a vast number of self-published authors don’t follow the “standard” format of publishing. Since distributors and stores only impose the most basic quality controls, a lot of self-published books suffer from lack of sales because the author simply didn’t deliver at a level readers expect for the price. Maybe the cover is awful. Maybe the book isn’t formatted properly and is difficult to read. Maybe it hasn’t been edited, and the reader gets tired of seeing fifteen typographical errors on every page, and having to guess at the meaning the author may have intended. Maybe the author doesn’t really care. Maybe their only intention was to make their stories available to a small circle of their friends and loved ones, and they have no interest whatsoever in making a career out of their writing.

The great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do that. The bad thing about it is that the circle of distribution is never that small.

This has always been and always will be a sore point between authors and readers, and the sales slump we are seeing now could very well be a sign that the market is self-correcting: weeding out the “bad apples” so the good ones can thrive.

However, another reason for low royalties is the continuing downward pricing pressure in the industry. With subscription services gaining popularity, voracious readers can now consume dozens of eBooks for a low monthly fee. When comparing that “basically free” phenomenon with a regularly priced eBook, and given the high volume of books they read on a regular basis, those regularly priced eBooks can seem overpriced. Any savvy consumer will want more for less–that’s perfectly understandable. But it puts the pressure on authors to price their eBooks lower, to offer some or all of them for free, and to do it with a smile on their face, even as they are (metaphorically) cutting off pieces of themselves to gain a foothold in the fickle book market.

Publishing has now become a matter of quantity, rather than quality. The more books you publish, the more sources of revenue you have. You make more selling 100 copies of a $0.99 book than you would selling 10 at $3.99. Faster releases piggyback off their own buzz waves, and keep the word of mouth flowing easier than if an author publishes one book every two years. Even if those slower releases are longer, better, and better presented, many times they will fail simply because readers lose interest and forget by the release date. With so many other options to choose from, instant gratification tends to win out.

From where I’m sitting, those 2012 stats don’t look like they apply any longer. I would estimate that the average annual income for self-published authors is slightly lower now and, having seen a number of authors quit over the last couple of years in order to get full time jobs because of financial problems, it hasn’t gotten any easier to make ends meet on just book royalties.

For this, and many other reasons, the best advice any author or industry professional will ever give you is this:

Write what you love, because you love it.

That love will sustain you through good times and bad. If you don’t have it, if writing doesn’t spark a fire in your soul and consume your every waking moment, all the hardships, setbacks, obstacles, and detours will eventually wear you down and kill any enjoyment you may have started out with. You can’t write to popular trends, because those change in a heartbeat. You can’t write to your audience, because their tastes will change and evolve overtime. You can never please everyone, and readers will feel your lack of passion through your written word.

Every author secretly holds out hope for the “bestselling author” title and J.K. Rowling-class fame, but if you write for the fame and fortune alone…well, as you can see, there is precious little of that to go around.

So here’s another piece of advice I feel I should impart:

Go into this with your eyes open, and a backup plan at the ready.

Knowing what you’re getting involved in, what you can expect, and how to compensate will not only save your sanity, but also keep you afloat when others around you might be sinking. Set the groundwork before you publish your first book: have an online platform and a strong social media presence to build a powerful wave of initial interest. It could mean the difference between creating a readership and fading into obscurity before you have a chance to shine. If you have a day job, hold onto it to pay the bills. Save up for the initial expenses (because they do exist and are necessary) and budget yourself to only what you can afford. Keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry and make a plan for every contingency. And above all, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Hedge your bets, publish everywhere possible to reach as many readers as possible.

Book Covers: the good, the bad, the ugly

So, I made another video. Apologies ahead of time for the crappy sound—I’m currently working with audio equipment from the 80s. Also, I get really nervous when speaking and I hate the sound of my voice. Between us, I got through this by pretending no one would ever see it.

The video is basically a comparison of the 3 versions of covers that Virtual had, including the latest and greatest. Yes, I will likely do more in the future, but it might be a while. For now, enjoy!

2017 Smashwords Survey

Every year, the CEO of Smashwords publishes a survey on the company’s blog. It talks about things like genre popularity, most effective price points, most popular book lengths, etc. Definitely worth checking out if you get the chance. Obviously, it’s not the only source of market statistics out there, and it only includes data from Smashwords titles, but it’s still the most comprehensive I have come across so far. Given the number of titles published through the platform, do you think it’s reasonable to extrapolate this data to the eBook industry as a whole?

If you don’t follow Mark Coker’s blog, do yourself a favor and click that Follow button. You can read the 2017 Smashwords survey here.