Monday, August 20, 2012

The Image of a Writer's Life

Good Morning. Sorry I skipped out last week, but I've been super crazy nuts busy getting the old house painted. Still not done, I need more paint, but there's also wood to haul, a shed to clean, a bathroom to gut, and the downstairs I have yet to decide what to do with (graffiti would be an improvement).

All that being said, I wonder how big name authors spend their days -- writing in their air conditioned offices with a plethora of researchers, housekeepers, maids all catering to their every whim. Let's not forget they all have wonderful Scottish nannies to take care of the kids, and their spouses are marvels in the kitchen so they don't have to scrape together another round of mac and cheese and hot dogs.

I know most big name authors have schedules, and probably more than a few of them have maids and/or some kind of outside help, but I keep remembering Danielle Steele's appearance on Merv Griffin (remember him?) way back in the late 70's early 80's. She wore pearls and a long flowing chiffon something, could have been a gown for all I know, she kept playing with the scarf, flipping it between her fingers. She reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor. And then Merv did an expose on her house. California big, with a pool, and a view. Back then, she and Jackie Collins were big name authors. And I guess somehow, that's what stuck in my head. Glamorous, elegant, rich.

This image people have of writers is so not how it really is. Well, at least it's not for me. Like I have all this time to just write every day. Yeah, like that's possible when the kid is sick, the dogs pooped all over the carpet, the cat knocked down five of my african violets off the shelf, and my mother has been bitching the grass needs to be cut. Add the fact we're going back to school in less than a week, I'm dealing with financial bullshit from the ex, and it's raining -- AGAIN.

I know I'm whining. You know I'm whining. I think we're all entitled to it once and awhile.

The reason I bring this up at all is -- I had an outside interview last week. Our new house is in a golf community and they have a monthly newsletter. The woman who writes the letter is a friend of my mother's. Well, when she found out we lived here now, she called me and wanted to know what I was doing. When she met me five years ago, I was a caterer. When I told her I was now a writer she said, "How unusual."

What does that mean exactly?

Are we, as writers, unusual? Are the five million of us currently writing books weird, or kooky, or out of the ordinary? Sure we're introverts, sure we have our little rituals before we tackle those revisions, sure we don't speak to people between the hours of 8-1. Sure we eavesdrop on stranger's conversations, have a penchant for back booths and corner tables in coffee houses, and we might even push the bounds of research occasionally and have the Secret Service show up at our door. But does that really make us unusual?

I explained to Judith I wrote in a niche market, Regency romance, and that I had two novels and several short stories out, and I had also just published my first contemporary romance. She oohed and ahhed in all the right places, and then she asked, "So are you going back to catering anytime soon?"

Why do people automatically assume you won't be able to hack it as a writer? Why do people automatically assume you need to have a "job" because you also write? Back in the day, I was a waitress who wrote. Or a housekeeper who wrote. Or a chef who wrote. Now, I'm a writer. That's it. Just a writer.

The Image of a Writer's Life isn't glamorous. Well, at least not this writer. But I'll take a two hour nap after weed wacking, just so I don't ever have to go back to the "real world" again. I'll put up with disappointing reviews, and writer envy, and not meeting my word count, just so I can stay home. Perhaps agoraphobia is the culprit. Perhaps it's just my way of being the black sheep. Just a little unusual. It doesn't matter. I am who I am, and I'm a writer.

I wonder if Nora Roberts cuts her own grass?

Tell me -- what kind of reaction do you get when you tell people you're a writer?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Much Are You Worth?

Good Morning.

Today I want to discuss e-book pricing. While I was away, I read some "big name author" opinions on the subject, and I have a few of my own I'd like to share. Not because I'm a "big" author, but I think they're valid points and if you're heading into the e-publishing sphere, you might want to take some of this into consideration.

As a whole, I think it depends on what kind of story you've written. For my short stories, I priced them at .99cents. I thought that was fair. I tried $1.29 for one of them for two weeks and I didn't sell one copy. As soon as I dropped my price back to .99, they sold.

(Now, some authors price their shorts at $1.99, their novellas at $2.99, novels at $6.99. Which might work for them, but it doesn't work for me. These are mostly big name authors who've made their mark in the self-publishing arena and can do whatever they want.)

In my Regency series, my novellas and short stories are .99 cents. My novels, I started off at $2.99, and then I raised the price to $3.49. I'm selling the exact same amount from when they were .50cents cheaper. It's my opinion, if people like what they see in the cover copy and the "inside peek" they'll buy it no matter what the price. Especially if you've found a fan base.

Now, some "insiders" say to price your first book cheaply in the beginning to gain an audience and use it as a "loss leader." (We discussed this last week on the Is Free the New Black post.) If you're writing a series, and don't write short stories, this can work for you. .99 is an enticement to get readers to stick around for the rest of the series especially if the first book is well-written. When the second book comes out, the price you decide upon is up to you.

And here's the crux of it. How much do you think your book is worth? Only you can determine this. I don't know about you, but I've worked long and hard on my books, crafting them, revising, rewriting, editing, formatting, all the stuff we do as writers on our way to publication. How long did it take me to write the book? God only knows. If I broke it down into actual man hours, it seems like a million. Do I really want to charge .99cents for something that took me almost a year to write? I feel I'm worth more than that.

In today's competitive market (strictly e-books here) you want your book read, you want your readers to feel satisfied they didn't waste their hard earned money on something they hated. (Which in that case, they'll ask for a refund.) I could have charged $6.99 for my novels like the big name authors do. But I'm not a big name author. I also want to be competitive. I also want to make some money for all my hard work, which is why I chose to start out at $2.99, the lowest price point to garner 70% royalties.

Now some of my readers in their reviews were disappointed to find that what they bought for .99 wasn't a novel. But they wouldn't pay $2.99 for one. So that either means, they're cheap, used to Free, or on a limited budget. Which in today's economy is fair to say. However, if I put my novels at .99 then that devalues ME as an author. I work hard on my books, have great covers, edit them, re-edit them, and make sure they're free of typo's and all the other junk. I feel I'm distributing a pretty good product.

I'd love to sell my novels for $6.99. Why don't I? Because I'm still new at this. I feel the more I write, the better I get, and possibly someday, after I've sold 50,000 copies, I just might. But for now, raising the price .50 cents is my way of giving myself a raise and telling consumers I value what I do. And so should they.

My books aren't crap. I've put probably a thousand man-hours into research. I've spent years rewriting and revising. I think I know what I'm doing, and with help from my critters and betas, I put out what I think is a damned fine book. Of course, there are better writers than me, I know that. But you know what, I've read some stuff that's come out of New York and I wouldn't waste my hard-earned money on it. You get what you pay for. And I think $2.99 is a pretty fair price. It's less than a cup of coffee sometimes.

So that's that. My thoughts on E-Book Pricing.

Any questions, comments, thoughts, ideas, personal experience you want to share....

Monday, August 6, 2012

CosVogEllGirl Wants to Know -- What Kind of Writer Are You?

We’ve all seen them, all taken them, those quizzes in Cosmo, Vogue, Elle magazines that teach us who we are, but more importantly, who we can be if we change our ways, find our limits, secure our sanity by taking five minutes to choose A – B – C.

Today I’ve put together a little quiz of my own to show you just what kind of writer you are. Answer the 5 questions, and your true writer self will emerge.

1) When meeting your cousin at the airport whom you haven’t seen in ten years, do you….?

A) Know her immediately, give her a big hug, and welcome her with enthusiastic affection.
B) Look around carefully at the other people in baggage claim to make sure she’s your cousin before giving her a stiff hug.
C) Hold a placard up at the terminal exit.
D) Cry when you realize it’s your cousin ELLEN, not EILEEN.

2) Your husband/S.O. offers to go to the grocery store and comes back with nothing you put on the list. Do you….?

A) Say, “That’s okay, honey, I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook Brazilian Thai.
B) Pull the stuff out of the bags, put it away, and say nothing.
C) Leave the stuff in the bags, and take it all back to the store the next day.
D) Cry when he says, “I couldn’t read your handwriting.”

3) You’ve just finished reading the latest best-seller all your friends have been raving about. It wasn’t all that. Do you….?

A) Find the good scenes and discuss those at your book club.
B) Pass the book along to your cousin, and when she asks, “How was it?” say “Okay.”
C) Go straight to Amazon and write an unfavorable review.
D) Cry because you know your book that’s been in your hard drive for 6 years is soooo much better.

4) At the gas station, fifteen minutes before a huge presentation at work, you accidentally spill gas down your leg and into your brand new $100- high heels. Do you….?

A) Stop off at the mall, grab a pair of new shoes and nylons before heading to the office.
B) Go into the Ladies Room, take off your nylons, wash the shoes, and head to the office.
C) Go to the office smelling like gasoline, there’s no time to do anything about it.
D) Cry. Now you won’t be able to return the shoes.

5) Your mother says she hates your new haircut. Do you….?

A) Say, “Don’t worry, it’ll grow out soon.”
B) Go into the bathroom, wash your hair, and style it the way you normally do.
C) Go back to the salon and have them give you a pixie.
D) Cry because you knew it was drastic and if your mother hates it, then so will everyone else.

If you answered A to most of the questions, you’re a CHEERLEADER
No one will get you down. Not agents, publishers or your beta/critters. The book you’re writing is fantastic and when it needs work, you do it gladly because you know it’s going to get accepted and will be a best-seller. You’re on every social media site, have zillions of followers, and have done everything you know how to build that platform. Go YOU!

If you answered B to most of the questions, you’re a DOCTOR
Writing is hard work. You know it and accept it. You’re informed and well read and go about the business of writing your fourth novel knowing some day you will be published. You’ve built a modest following on three social media sites, know what your platform is, and never stray from that. You’re not afraid of rewriting and revising.

If you answered C to most of the questions, you’re an ACUTARY
You have no need for frills or friends. You only deal in facts. You write doggedly and determinedly, craft books by the bed for light reading. If you can’t get an agent to look at THIS book, you’ll write another. You’ve spent years honing the craft, memorizing genre guidelines, you know who you are and what you want – to be a mid-list author with a guaranteed income. You have a blog with a few followers, and Tweet occasionally. You don’t have time for social media. You’re a writer.

If you answered D to most of the questions, you’re a MESS
Take some time, do some research on writing and genre, grab some craft books, get on the blogs, become informed. Learn sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, find some beta readers, invest in Kleenex. Getting critiques, losing contests, and finding rejections from agents and publishers in your inbox takes a thick skin. If you can’t handle the pressure, put your pen down and walk away. Not everyone with a great idea for a story can write one.

Thanks for taking the quiz. So tell me, WHAT KIND OF WRITER ARE YOU?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Free is the New Black...Or Is It?

We've all heard the stories of authors putting their books up for free, clocking thousands of downloads, and then once the promo is over, selling thousands of copies. One author I know about bought a new car after her free promotion. Another paid off her mortgage.

Well, guess what, that doesn't happen every day. It depends on the book, the genre, the writer, why you're doing it, as well as the day of the week, and the position of the moon. Yeah, no not really, but luck like that is very rare. Also a back list is worth a thousand downloads.

I'll tell you my story, and you can decide if you want to put your books for free or not.

We all know I write Regency romance. In the beginning I wrote a novel -- THE LADY'S FATE. But I didn't know how to promote it. I decided to write a short story to give away as a loss leader. You know, like the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks. Give something else away for free, to get them to buy what you really want them to buy.

I gave away A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN when I launched LADY'S FATE. This was before the days of Amazon's KDP Select. It was a win-win for me. When I launched THE DUKE'S DIVORCE, I also gave away copies of A HUSBAND FOR MISS TRENT. Another win.

All my books shot up in the rankings, got me sales, made me delight in my forethought and cunning that I was so smart to do so. I thought I was the golden child of the Regency world.

But all that soon came crashing to a nasty halt. Amazon caught on to the game (If you uploaded to another venue, Smashwords for instance, and offered your book free before they went to Premium status, the spam bots at Amazon couldn't track you.)

Last December they decided to install KDP Select. Which would give you the option to offer your book for free on Amazon for 5 days. It also allowed its Prime members to borrow your book for free, but you would still get paid. Which sounded like a good deal. Everyone was still making money, and you could also use those 5 days for a loss leader promotion. It was only 90 days and if you wanted to re-up or not, that was your decision.

Well, the first month, everyone and their brother tried it. It worked for me too with WINSBARREN. I took it off Smashwords, enrolled it in KDP and although I never put it for free (as I had already done so) I did get a lot of hits off the Prime membership.

But now, we come to the big bad Amazon (in March) changing their algorithms. (Okay does anyone know how to spell that word? Really? I've seen it spelled like 3 different ways.)

For those who don't know what algorithms are, I don't actually know either. But to hazard a guess, it's a scientific analytical spreadsheet that marks (in Amazon's case) how many books are sold by genre, by price, by author, then makes calculations based on how, when, and where they're selling, then takes all that information and plugs it into another spreadsheet and figures out who's going to sell more, who's going to buy more, and who's going to make more money. (Amazon.)

Anyway, once Amazon plugged FREE into their algorithms, authors were shooting up to #1 with a bullet. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was doing it. Authors were getting on lists, authors were selling more books, people were reading more books. Amazon was making more money. (Because that's what Amazon does.)

But then, as with every good thing that's too good to be true, authors began to suffer from lackluster sales after their free promotion. They'd hit #1 or #2 during, but after, nothing. You know why? Because everyone else was giving their books away for free so why should they buy yours. People were grumbling, authors were in uproar, marketing analysts were writing articles in the NYTimes and Huffington Post. Oh my.

So here we are, 8 months after the initiation of the KDP Select program and what's happened is Free is now the norm. Authors who are having lackluster sales decide to offer their book FREE in the KDP Select program after it's been out for awhile. You know what that does. Makes people wait to buy your book. Because they know eventually, it will be free. That's why there are lackluster sales. They're waiting. Everyone loves a bargain.

Free is what you make it. In my opinion, offering a book free at the launch would be the way to go. Making that free list, getting higher in the rankings, garnering some reviews. Then set your price and stick with it. (Which is what I did with REMEMBERING YOU. I'm waiting for the dust to settle and then once I have all my notes in place, I'll tell you what happened with that book. Probably in late August, early September.)

In my opinion, once you publish a book, instead of trying to sell it forever, write the next book. If people buy your first book and like it, they want more. It's called a fan base. (Unless you have a 1000 followers on your blog and Twitter, you don't have a fan base yet.) Perhaps write a short story and offer that as Free, possibly for the launch of the next book instead of the book itself. It couldn't hurt. And besides, how long did it take you to write the 80k words in your novel? How long did it take you to write the 15k words in your short story, or 25k words in your novella? Which would you like to take a loss on?

I think, and again this is only my opinion, now that Amazon has changed its algorithms again (June) free is not what it once was. Sure it might get you to #1 for a few days, but after that, you go back to where you used to be. Rankings don't follow the free promo anymore. So save yourself, and your sanity. Think about your loss leader before you go offering anything for free.

And again, this is only based on my experiences on what I've done. Comments, questions are welcome. No spam please. Next week I'll discuss price points.