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The price is right

11 Jan

Well, that depends. When it comes to books (and other published items), it can be a fine walk between pricing too low (not enough profit margin) and too high (no sales). A couple weeks ago, I was alerted to a friend of a friend’s book now being available on a site that basically functions as a poor-man’s Amazon for self-published authors. Not the best place to sell books, but the real problem was the price — $35.00 for a 96-page book.

There are books that sell very well in the 35-cents-per-page range, but they are typically technical, scientific, or art books. This one is none of those; it’s a basic paperback aimed toward 20-somethings who are job hunting. First, this category and demographic simply doesn’t support a $35 book. The most similar books on the topic typically cost half the price with far more material included. Second, the target market being job hunters at least partially implies they are short on money—not exactly the most likely group to pop $35 on a book.

The price point here is indicative of a problem found with many online self-publishing services—their fees or cut requires most books to be priced too high to reasonably sell (unless the author wants to make little or no money). If a company such as this will charge $20 to sell your book, and your book is the kind typically selling for $19.95, you have a problem. Don’t think you can just bump it up to $22.95 or $24.95 and be fine with it. It’s extremely easy for people to price-check things online and get a strong sense of what’s reasonable. This is not to say you can’t overcome such resistance—but your content and your marketing had better be stellar.

As a final point, it’s worth noting that there is value in brevity. If you can condense your thoughts, ideas, advice, or whatever into a very short format that provides maximum value for the reader’s time invested, that’s worth something. But again, you will need to have excellent content and a superb marketing plan to communicate this benefit, because people still largely equate page counts (quantity) with price, though things are shifting with ebooks.

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How Bookstores Can Survive

19 Dec

Over the last several years, as bookstores have dwindled and Borders went belly up, a lot of attention has shifted toward Amazon (being the villain or scapegoat, depending on your perspective). But debating Amazon’s role in the changes in publishing does nothing to save bookstores. Like it or not, Amazon will continue to do what it’s doing, and because it’s primarily helping readers, little traction will ever be gained among book lovers to boycott Amazon or any similar pointless activities (unless Amazon does something truly wrong).

The truth is, bookstores have dwindled because they’re part of a defunct system that dates back nearly a hundred years, and became very comfortable in their role. In other words, as the publishing world started to change (evident at least 20 years ago), bookstores did little if anything to proactively adjust. They just kept doing the same old things, selling books the same old way. Worse yet, as book-selling consolidated among fewer chains, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, the “associates” (or whatever title workers were bestowed) became less and less knowledgeable. The love of books common among independent bookstore employees was replaced by the attitude that “it’s a better job than other options” for getting through college or a mid-life crisis. Of course, I’m grossly generalizing, to the insult of honest, book-loving bookstore employees everywhere — however, they are a truly slim minority (and they, of all people, know it).

So, what can bookstores do?

My recommendation — and precisely what I’d do if I were to start or take over a bookstore today — is to specialize, specialize, specialize. Focus your bookstore on a particular genre and know that genre inside out. Humor books, self-help books, business books, mystery, sci-fi, romance, whatever. Pick a genre and go deep. Feature the popular titles, but carry many from unknown and self-published authors as well. Hire employees who absolutely LOVE your genre, so they know more about it than 90% of the customers coming through the door.

Wanna get crazy? Allow customers to order books from Amazon that you don’t carry. Do it right there in your store. Have computer stations set up so customers order through your Amazon Associates account, earning you a little cut from each sale. No, it’s not much, but it’s a slice of the pie you wouldn’t otherwise have — and it’s goodwill among your customers. Make this option abundantly clear in your store, so fewer rude lurkers are buying from Amazon on their smartphones in your store.

I have more thoughts on this I’ll add in the future, but for now, I’ve put the idea out there. Of course, I’m not saying there’s no such bookstore in the U.S. or world, but I’ve never heard of or seen one (not counting technical, scientific, or religious bookstores). So, at the very least, I can say the vast majority of bookstores try to carry most genres for most people. I think the time has come to head the opposite direction.

Google+

13 Dec

If you haven’t heard, Google+ has “gone public” — meaning that you no longer need an invitation to get in. I had a brief chance to try it out during the testing phase, when author Jason Matthews (who’s written an excellent ebook on self-publishing ebooks) sent me an invitation. It is definitely worth getting familiar with.

While it has only a fraction of the users of Facebook at this point (and yet that still equals millions), I’d be very surprised if that doesn’t skyrocket in 2012. So, yes, you will find a lot of people are not there yet — but I think they will be. But the reason I’m hyping it up a little bit is not the number of people already on it, but rather one simple feature. You’ll find lots of debate online about whether it’s better than Facebook or Twitter, blah, blah, blah. So, I’m not going to get into that. Instead, I just want to share with you the benefit of its most basic feature — adding people to “circles.”

Basically, Google+ (also referred to as Google Plus and G+) allows you to set up circles of contacts to which you can add whomever you want. This means you can have a circle for friends, customers, family, coworkers, and so on. Technically, you can achieve something of the same in Facebook, but the big deal here is how easy it is in G+. In fact, I’d be very surprised if Facebook doesn’t overhaul its interface in the not-too-distant future to reflect this. Simply put, you just drag an icon of a contact (looks like a little rectangle with the person’s name and photo) into whichever circle (or circles) you choose. It’s very visual and easy. Love it.

So, for authors, this feature is a tremendous and nearly effortless way to segregate your contacts in basically unlimited ways. You can have a circle for fans, customers, business contacts (like marketing prospects), potential fans/customers, inner-circle supporters, publishing industry contacts, etc. Then, as these circles get established, you can choose them (however many) to receive your status updates — business people only receive business-related updates; fans receive updates on your characters or insights; your family receives updates on your holiday travel plans.

I may write more in the future about the benefits of Google+, but as of right now, this feature alone has won me over. Not that it means getting off Facebook — after all, all of the major social-media platforms have advantages and disadvantages — but it’s certainly a tool well worth adding to my author toolbox.

Yes, books *are* judged by their covers

23 Sep

The other day, a friend showed me a new book by a new author she knows. It was a proud moment for her, so I didn’t want to spoil it — but the cover was awful. I’m not sure whether it amazes me more that these publishing services (in this case, Author House) have the lack of shame to publish these covers or that the authors honestly can’t tell a bad cover from a good one.

Now, I’m not talking about stylistic, design subjectivity; this cover has a visibly blurry image of a handgun on the cover that was probably pulled from the Internet. Even if someone lacks the design savvy to see why the cover is bad overall, it escapes me that the average person wouldn’t see a badly blurry design element like this gun.

In addition, the back cover is nothing more than black text on a white background. BORING!! And on top of that, there were numerous typos just in the back description. Wow.

So, authors, pleeeeeease be ruthless critics of your book covers, especially when using a publishing service. The poor author above probably spent several hundred dollars, possibly a thousand, on his book. (Author House’s set-up fee starts at $598, according to 2009 Writer’s Digest directory of “self-publishing companies.”) If anything seems obviously wrong or questionable, don’t accept it as is. You have the right to a competent (if not great) book cover. If you don’t feel you have the knowledge to discern problems on your cover (before you approve it), then hire a book-cover designer for a consultation. This can be done for around $35-50, but it can save you hundreds of dollars you’d waste on a blatantly poor cover.

Your book’s cover is paramount to your book’s success. I won’t go so far as to say it’ll make or break your book, but it sets the tone for the reader and, more important, is the first impression a potentialreader has when considering buying your book. A cheap cover will convey (at least subconsciously) cheap content.

Write Once, Sell Often

23 Sep

As you’re developing your content, or are looking for ways to make money from what you’ve already written, keep in mind: “Write once, sell often.” This phrase (that I borrowed from publishing expert Paulette Ensign) is a reminder that we authors need to use and re-use our material as much as possible, the concept of “leveraging.”

Too many authors (and I have to fight from falling into this trap as well) become enamored with many different pursuits, writing on various and sundry, unrelated topics. Others write book after book, without getting the most out of each one. It’s a better strategy to maximize your income streams from each piece, however big or small, you write.

This means your manuscript could be made available  in the following formats: paperback, hardback, audio, e-book, video, booklet or mini-book, and a web book (interactive combination of book and website). Additionally, your manuscript can be chopped into pieces for articles, subscription email delivery, Twitter tips, Facebook updates, blog entries, and more. Now, you see why the phrase is “write once, sell often.”

Of course, not all of these avenues will be income-producing in themselves; however, they all will contribute to raising awareness of your body of work and generating virtual footsteps to the focal point of your work (most likely your website). And these footsteps ultimately lead indirectly to income.