Never Spend Money on Site Only Book Advertising

As an Indie author, I get a lot of emails, junk mail, and even phone calls trying to sell book advertising to me. Some of these sites and services tout very big traffic numbers (without links to reputable independent verification sites) and brag that they only review a small portion of books advertised on their site. Well, that’s really nothing to brag about, but it does identify you as a scam to any Indie author paying attention.

There is exactly one reason to spend money for only an ad on a site. You want to support the site and this is the tax deductible way to do it. Why? Ads are transient. They will exist for a few weeks to a few months and barely make it into any of the search engines. After that, they will be broken links in the search engines until the engines get around to purging the broken links. Only spend your site advertising money on sites where the ad is bundled with a book review.

Book reviews are “evergreen” content. It does not matter if one million people visited the book review site and saw your review, that was only a tiny fraction of Internet traffic. The review can then be resold/leased as evergreen content to a host of other sites or round robin type services. There is a whole new rash of tricks and software techniques rotating out the content on pages every hour or so to keep people coming back. Don’t believe me? How many of you have Yahoo as your browser home page when you log in? How long does the primary content stay there? Well, many other sites are going for that “portal” image now as well. Rather than focusing on news feeds from the AP Wire and weather from a Weather Channel feed, they focus on categories of content. Some just focus on ever changing content even if it has nothing to do with the site.

I set up a Google Alert for my titles. A few months after some of the sites had posted reviews, I started seeing those same reviews pop up on other sites. Sometimes they were only there long enough to show up in Google, other times they stayed for days. Granted some turned out to be porn sites and other things, but the point is, the reviews were resold as evergreen content. You don’t get just the traffic through the review site anymore. Your review will be resold/reposted on thousands of other sites throughout its 8-10 year evergreen lifespan and that will mean millions of people getting to see the review.

When you plunk down cash for a site only ad, you had best hope that every person in the known universe had nothing better to do the week your ad was up than visit that site and click on the link.

 

How Long Before There are No Large Publishers?

This is a question which has been coming up more and more lately. Back in March I made quite a few posts on that author site I hang out on stating the business model could not survive. I have even had a previous blog entry about it last year some time I think.

Here is a prediction for you though:

Inside of three years there will either be no large publishing houses, or their financial condition will be worse than Borders was two years ago.

The future printed market is not wide scale distribution through traditional, but “available exclusively at xxx” like Craftsman used to be available only at SEARS.

I did some research and found that when book buyers at Target choose a title for their on-line book club (I didn’t even know they had a book club of any kind) it is generally a minimum 100,000 copies sold, but usually closer to 250,000 copies. We are, of course, currently talking about books available to the general book buying community. Currently they are using some broker/distributor which I have never heard of, but I cannot believe that company is getting into the middle of book buying transactions for free. If Target wants to really wade into the $10 hard cover market it is going to have to start making deals directly with Indie authors and small publishers. The other Big Box stores are all moving into the book market and many have joined the $10 hard cover battle.

While it is quite true that nobody could possibly hate Amazon.com more than I do, here is an interesting article.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704912004575253132121412028.html?KEYWORDS=vanity+press+goes+digital

Please note the portion which says Amazon will be printing this book. It didn’t say Simon & Shuster (sp?), Random House, or any other large publisher. Amazon is going to print the book and compete directly with publishers who are selling books via their site. Quite frankly, this is the new model…well close to it.

  1. Books will be initially released in PDF or eBook form via authors directly (hopefully with heaps and gobs of professional editing first, because right now a lot of raw sewage gets released by CreateSpace and the other enabling firms which don’t mandate any professional editing.)

  2. A paid reader for one of the big box chains will read and like one of the titles.

  3. After checking with the author and verifying no other deals are on the table they will kick the title up to the buyer.

  4. The buyer will skim or just take at face value the paid reader’s recommendation, then make an offer to the author of “available exclusively at XXX”. No investment will be required by the author, they will simply pay them roughly $2.00/copy and contract out the printing themselves. Deal good for one year with right of extension.

  5. Author will tell friends and jump with joy when they see a small add in the weekly sales flyer for their local store.

  6. Some 30-90 days later, checks will start arriving and author will be quite happy.

The new model won’t have 20 layers of middle people all taking a cut. There won’t be pulped print runs (unless there is a major printing error) as we’ve all seen these stores run “end of season clearance” sales, which is what they will do with the few titles they buy and don’t put on the book club list.

New authors will end up with something they never get from a major publishing house. Marketing! These big box stores know how to work their customer base and they won’t select a title which doesn’t feed directly into their market. The companies buying movie options will have something they don’t often get…real numbers and direct feedback from Joe and Jane consumer who paid for and read the book. (Most of those big box book clubs have on-line forums for people to comment on the books.) In short, we won’t have to live through another “Sahara” movie or court drama.

http://www.omm.com/newsroom/News.aspx?news=767

Major grocery and supermarket chains have also started wading into the book business, and even the $10 hard cover battle.

http://new.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20090427/17159-books-stay-part-of-the-grocery-store-mix-.html

Meijer has taken books in their store from a small rack on a back wall to a section of the store which stocks roughly 100,000 units according to some sources.

Think about it. What is pretty much the only thing fueling the growth of POD right now? Scams telling Indie authors they can make big money paying an exorbitant per unit printing cost if they “publish” with this service, only printing books as needed…after they pay for NNN copies up front. While there are legitimate business reasons to move long tail titles into POD, printing first run books which are not low volume textbooks or graphics intense is simply inexcusable. Toner puts out a much lower quality product at a much higher cost than ink. You need to have a print run of around 1,000 copies to get the benefits of ink, but for a big box store that is going to print 100,000 – 250,000 copies initially (or only 5,000 copies if the title is to be a regular shelf title) this is not a problem. (Actually, some of the direct to plate printers can only print about 50,000 copies with a single set of plates, so the bigger runs would be scheduled as separate runs of 50,000 each.)

Amazon has already fired the first volley. They have announced that THEY, not one of the publishers supplying them with books, will be the printer for that woman’s book. This won’t be an isolated case with them. It is one of the reasons they make it so free and easy for Indie authors to get books onto the Kindle. They want the Kindle to be the screen for those titles they choose to print. Now other retailers will have to buy books FROM Amazon if they want the title. If it sold 36,000 eBooks, it will most likely sell enough print copies to warrant shelf space. Some current industry numbers put eBooks at 5% of unit sales for a title: 0.05x = 36,000 x = 36,000 / 0.05 x = 720,000 if the industry analysts are correct.

Yes, there will be some die hard book buyers who will say nothing compares to the experience of reading a book with a $12 Latte before buying it from a book store. They are a minority. Everybody has to eat and go to the bathroom. This means everybody shops at either a supermarket or a big box store with a grocery section every week. If you don’t consider yourself a book buyer, how often do you actually go into a book store? Only during the Christmas shopping season? I thought so.

 

Book Publishing and the Porn Industry

This blog entry will expand a little bit more on why you don’t buy books, and you owe it all to the lady who cut my hair today. I didn’t even ask her name, so I cannot tell you exactly who to blame. No, we didn’t talk about porn while she cut my hair. Like far too many people in the world, she’s a closet writer. We talked a little bit about writing while she was lowering my ears.

She claimed her problem with writing wasn’t the writing itself, but the fact she had to outline and stick to it rigidly, otherwise when she started writing one story it branched out to three or more stories that had nothing to do with the first one. I told her a good writer would simply add one more chapter before the ending and tie them all together. She wasn’t big on that idea, but admitted she hadn’t tried it.

Hours later, after I was home and catching up on email, I began to think about the easiest way to blend her stories together. I could actually hear her shock when I thought about….”simply set the story in Wisconsin and have a fuel truck fall off an overpass into a brewery parking lot.” Oh, don’t call that story contrived. It wasn’t all that long ago when that exact thing actually happened. I remember watching it on the Channel 7 news. All of the reporters were saying just how lucky the place had been. Had the truck went off the overpass half an hour later, people would have been lined up waiting to be let into work. It wasn’t too much later in the day when we got all of the follow up stories about everyone on the planning commission who was opposed to building an overpass with that sharp of a curve for just this reason, and the documents stating all of the buildings had to be moved out from under the overpass in the name of public safety.

I went searching the Web for this story so I could post a link, but that story must have been from back when I was in college. There did seem to be quite a few “truck fell from overpass” stories though. During the month I was driving an 18 wheeler around the country, I often wondered just how many went off overpasses. Have you ever driven south to north on the overpasses in St. Louis where they seem to go up forever, but limit truck speed to 45MPH?

At any rate, that got me thinking a little more about background and back story. It also got me thinking about the TV series Crash. I watched some of the episodes of Crash, and liked the concept, but I missed some, and kind of got out of the groove on it. Crash is/was a STARZ series that actually came out stating all of the different story lines were going to collied like a traffic accident and you wouldn’t be able to look away. I must admit, while some of the story lines were kind of “Soap Opera” in nature, others were quite good. It was somewhat difficult to see how they were going to bring it all together. It might have actually been a better sell if they hadn’t told people they were going to do it. While it pulled me in to watch it initially, it did take some of the magic away from the show.

In today’s publishing world, a person would have to self publish a story which culminated with a tanker truck falling off an overpass into a brewery parking lot tying all/most of your story lines together. We’ve heard the old maxim “If your story doesn’t really get going until page 56, throw out the first 50 pages!” It wasn’t until today that I realized this is exactly what happened to the porn industry.

When VCRs first came onto the market (and standardized on a format) the porn industry was a license to print money. Movies had good budgets and people really liked them. Okay, some people watched them only for the sex, but others watched a real movie which didn’t have to be coy about the sex. In the case of my brother, I think he was simply going alphabetically through all of the titles in the back room.

I was in some form of college when he brought home “Corporate Assets”. I think I can say in all honesty that this is the last porn movie I ever watched. Yes, I’ve seen 3 minute snippets here and there, but I haven’t actually watched a porn movie since then. Here is some information on it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0196472/

Had they wanted to get into regular theaters, they could have simply cut about 15 minutes of hard core and done well. This was a well written story, and for porn, incredibly well acted. Most people do not see that massive left hook coming at the end, I know I didn’t. Some reviewers call this “the last movie of Adult’s Golden Era”, and I have to agree. It has been more than 20 years since I’ve seen it and I still remember it.

What is striking about this tale is that immediately after the release of that movie, porn adapted the maxim “If your characters don’t start having sex until page 56 of your script, throw out the first 50 pages.” Porn basically devolved into videos where characters didn’t even start with their clothes on. It went from being something most women liked to watch to something which disgusted them, and rightly so. Hell, I wouldn’t even rent it, and I was in my 20’s then. Occasionally someone would tell me about some incredible moment in some otherwise worthless flick and I would rent it, fast forward as far as they told me, watch the scene, then rewind and return the video. Usually I wouldn’t even bother to do that. Porn simply became a bunch of “collections from the cutting room floor” in my mind.

Of all of those scenes I was told to watch, there is exactly ONE that I remember. I even kept the movie a while and showed the scene to some female friends. A guy had built this round table with a whole in the center which was just high enough off the ground for him to lie down under. A girl got on top and well…yeah…but the cool part was the table had ball bearings so it could be spun while they were doing that. It was totally unexpected. Nearly every 20-something girl I showed that scene to said they were game to try it if I could build the table…I just never got around to building the table. I still remember that table though. I don’t remember anything else about any of the other things. Eventually, as I got older and my friends got married, I stopped getting recommendations about porn to rent. Everybody says that free amateur Internet porn is killing the porn industry. Well, no. What is killing the porn industry is the fact that the stuff being passed out for free on the Internet is just as bad as the stuff being pressed onto DVD, but we will tolerate it for free. You haven’t put out a movie like “ Corporate Assets” since 1985 and everybody knows it.

Perhaps “Corporate Assets” needed the porn scenes to keep the lesser minds involved in a story which wasn’t going to really get going until the last 15 minutes. Shakespeare had to sprinkle jokes and humor in his plays to quiet the rabble in the pit. Two things are certain. Shakespeare wouldn’t get published and “Corporate Assets” wouldn’t get filmed today.

 

1500 Words

Now that we have finished planting and are about caught up with the crop spraying, I’ve had more time to catch up on my reading. It may shock many of you, but I don’t subscribe to any geek magazines anymore. I think there is a DB2 magazine that keep showing up, but that is only because I haven’t figured out how to get myself off it. Hell, I’m not even certain why I started receiving it, but I believe it had something to do with my days of subscribing to DevCon for my OS/2 development.

Much of the reading I’ve been catching up on has to do with the writing magazines I receive. I actually pay for these magazines, unlike the vast majority of geek magazines I used to receive. When you take the time to pay for a magazine in this day and age, it means that you actually read it…or that you are in that financial world which spends $20 million per year on “entertainment and living” expenses and simply can’t keep track of all the $20 magazine subscriptions you have floating around the world.

I have noticed one thing which strikes me as quite odd in all of this reading. The bulk of the “successful author” interviews I’ve been reading talk about how they force themselves to write 1500 words per day when they are writing. What struck me as odd is that so many seem to be tossing out this exact number. It is almost as if the magazines themselves agreed on that number and stick it into every interview article. Perhaps these writers don’t partake of nicotine, caffeine and booze? Mayhap the publishing industry won’t exist if they raise taxes on any of these. Okay, they can raise taxes on coffee all they want since that is the beverage of the damned, but not the other sources of caffeine. We’ve all read the statements and seen the television commercials which talk about how Hemingway was “at his best in the morning”. If you actually read up about Hemingway you will find that he was thought/known to be an alcoholic and that he smoked various forms of tobacco. The TV commercials simply didn’t finish out the sentence: “Hemingway was at his best in the morning when he was imbibing caffeine and nicotine to get rid of the hang over.”

Back in mid-April I gave up on the nicotine, not because it was ruining my life or health, but because they jacked the tax on it yet again. (See blog about Holier Than Thou Tax.) I have noticed that my writing, when I have time to write, doesn’t come as easily without it. Oh, I have things to say, but I simply can’t “chase a roll”. When I was writing “The Minimum You Need to Know to Be An Application Developer” it was nothing for me to write 18-26 hours at a stretch. I’m working on four books right now and haven’t managed to put more than a four hour stretch into any of them. I have to jump to a different project rather than chase a roll.

What really strikes me about 1500 word comment is how unrealistic it sounds. Just a little while ago I completed the blog entry “Book Publishing and the Porn Industry”. According to OpenOffice the article weighed in around 1300 words. I didn’t spend 45 minutes on the thing. (Yes, I have to use OpenOffice for blog entries because Lotus Symphony doesn’t have a plug-in to publish directly to my Blog.) This article will weigh in at more than a few hundred. The question which keeps haunting my mind is “Do they hate what they are writing or is it simply because they cannot type?”

 

Why People Don’t Buy Books

Since I’m now starting to write and market some fiction, I pay more attention now to the ramblings of the so called “publishing industry experts”. They are all quick to point out that the vast majority of “consumers” buy about 1 book per year, counting the ones they give as gifts. Many will point to excerpts from campaign speeches stating that the average American can read only at a fourth grade level. Some are even saying that the government should go further into debt with a publishing industry bail out.

I’ve read quite a bit from these supposed beings of great importance. I’ve analyzed what they all say with the skill that only an IT veteran with years of requirements gathering possesses. Here is a quote I found in “Writer’s Digest” from Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency:

Strong Beginnings start in the middle of the story. You can fill in backstory later. I like to see the protagonist in action at the start so that I get a feel for who the character is right off the bat. We often get submissions with cover letters that begin: “I know you asked for the first 50 pages, but the story doesn’t really get going until Page 57 so I included more.” If the story doesn’t really get going until Page 57, you probably need to cut the first 56 pages.

He is not alone in spouting this ka-ka. The vast majority of literary agents and publisher acquisitions staff seem to be feeding from the same septic tank. They point to the literacy rate and the education system, but never back at themselves. This is like listening to the heads of GM and the UAW talk about how everything wrong with the auto industry is outside of their control. They never point back at themselves and say “Two decades of absolute shit management guided solely by short term greed is really what got us here!”

At a young and impressionable age, I checked out the first volume of “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” from the high school library. The librarian actually allowed me to check out one of the trilogy (it was only a trilogy then) over the summer, a kindness I probably didn’t deserve, but greatly appreciated. (I guess the fact I’m mentioning it nearly 30 years later should speak volumes.) Here is a book which really helped define an entire niche of Science Fantasy and almost the entire first volume was background story. You knew by the heft of the book that it would be a journey and you went along for the ride. I learned more about leprosy than I ever cared to know from that book.

I quit reading the series after the third book. That is the point where the original author co-authored and really handed the reigns over to a different writer. It’s no longer a trilogy, and I’m no longer reading. I hate a book series which doesn’t have a predefined limit. Most book buyers feel the same way. If you don’t believe that statement, simply read some of the “ positive” reviews on “The Wheel of Time” series. Here is a combination of publisher and author who milked it for far more than it was worth. The first three books were stunning, the nine in the middle were oatmeal of the blandest variety. The writing didn’t return until the “actual” last book of the series when the fan base was outside of the publisher’s office carrying pitchforks and torches demanding the series be ended. Both the author and the publisher promised to end the series two books after this one…then the author died…but not before they squeezed out a prequel.

Why do we have prequels in the publishing and movie industry? Quite simply because of the absolute shit management we have running both industries. Those feces spewers who claim a strong beginning is in the middle of a story so they can get right to the action and hook the reader/viewer. You see, all of those flash-backs, dream sequences, and other contrived methods of “ bleeding in the back story” don’t (^)(*&)ing work. The movie viewer and the book reader both get lost or simply pissed off and they don’t stick around for the end.

Admit it now, you’ve all read reviews like this: “The action and imagery were great, but the story was lacking…” We get reviews like this because management was busy forcing “ strong opening” down the throats of everyone involved in production.

Quite simply, starting in the middle of the story doesn’t work. After hearing the above review a million plus times (and still managing to turn a profit), the industry scrapes up all of those discarded pages and slams out a prequel. How can you tell they scraped up discarded pages rather than writing it new? That’s easy. If reading/watching the prequel first doesn’t trash the series, they picked up all of the original discarded pages. When it is written after the fact, it busts things bad. Nobody involved in the process actually goes back and re-reads the entire series after reading the prequel to see what got walked on, they are too busy trying to make a fast buck. Skipping this last little step means your prequel blows things up later on. If all you did was put all those pages they told you to discard in a binder and resubmit them, your prequel doesn’t trash your story line.

How many of you reading this actually read the Hobbit stories? Watching the cartoons or the movies doesn’t count, how many of you actually read them? Okay, for those of you who actually read these stories, where was that first chapter action hook?

You see, just like the automotive industry, the publishing industry did it to themselves. They focused on today’s profit margin and didn’t look down the road. Quite deservedly, both industries are dying. When you take out “books bought to learn something for work or career change” the number of books purchased each year by the average consumer drops down into tiny fractions. We are all willing to plunk down a few dollars for something that makes us richer, especially if we can expense it back to the company or the IRS, but very few people bother reading a book anymore, mainly because the books today are all flavor and no food.

Make a list of all the non-technical/non-educational books you have read in the past 20 years. (For most of you this will be a list having five or fewer titles on it.) Of those titles, how many have the staying power to still be in print and read by people 20 years from now? Don’t know how to choose? That’s easy. How many were as well written as The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (first chronicles)? How many embrace the wonder of the Harry Potter series? (Btw, Kudos to that author for ending the series rather than milking it to the coffin. You have far more ethics than the vast majority of the publishing industry.)

People aren’t reading books anymore, and only the publishing industry is to blame.