Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to Be a Good Writer, Part 8

Real Power.
My good friend Aaron Patterson recently posted up a comment on Facebook about this: what’s it take to sell your book (basically)? I mean, some of us are selling and some of are not, and it’s not as if it’s cut and dried that the nonsellers are bad writers. Pardon me, but come on. And there’s plenty of hot-selling total crapola out there. So it’s not simple.

Adding to the complexity is the free market, which I adore. The rise of the eBook confounds the Big Six publishers today just the same way Napster and iTunes changed just about everything in regard to the music business about ten years ago. Well…when I say everything…the point is that Bob Dylan was right about how times change, but only insofar as they don’t really, which was King Solomon’s counterbalancing bit of sagacity.

Aaron and I secretly agree that for the business-minded author, the entrepreneurial, the indie author, pssst, there’s really no need for a publisher. The dirty little secret is that the Big Six will expect you to work just as hard for them as if you were going it alone, and in exchange for that gigantic favor they will be taking about 85% of the pot, thanks. At least. I personally don’t want to shove against that wall. Someone else can shove it, if you get my meaning.

The facts, therefore, have been distilled down to these: editing, cover design, publishing, and marketing strategy. Those are the things that matter most, and the things that any competent publisher (even if he’s just a one-man operation, i.e. an indie writer) will spend the bucks on. Let’s have a look at ‘em one at a time.

Editing is the process, often painful, whereby you as the author pay large amounts of cash so that your work can be pulled apart by someone wiser than thou. It’s also so that you can be emotionally abused about it. A good editor will do that so nicely that you’ll catch yourself saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have another.” Remember that editing isn’t just spelling and grammar; it’s content, the creative bits, pacing, character development, plot, and so on. It’s my personal opinion that the best editors are a one-stop shop. Spelling and grammar are fixed pretty well by Word itself. Anyway, editors who only do spelling and grammar are often called proofreaders, not editors.

Cover design is something at which I suck. Just being honest. So few authors are double-edged swords, able to produce literary and graphic excellence. I recently posted on Facebook a cover I did for my upcoming novella The Marsburg Diary, alongside another cover that was professionally done, and asked people to vote. It was something on the order of 20:1 against mine. Not to say that I can’t learn eventually, but for now, I’ll be leaving it to the professionals. I’d counsel you to do the same. It’s almost impossible to spend too much on a good cover. Don’t be afraid to “focus group” it with your friends, either.

Publishing just means that you’re taking your work public. That’s all. And right now one of the best ways to do that is to convert your Word .docx (or .doc, if you’re Vincent Zandri) to Amazon’s eBook format. There are rumblings that Kindle devices will soon open and read any eBook file format, by the way. Unless, perhaps, that has already happened and I didn't get the memo. But guess what. Once you pay for the file conversion on an eBook, there’s no more overhead, really, and Amazon pays out 70% royalties on eBooks, provided you’re within a certain price envelope.

But what of marketing strategy? What about print? What about eBooks? This is such a loaded subject that I think it might be best to broach it in a separate blog. There’s so many opinions on it. But you’ve got to know that all the work you’ve done before this point will rot like something nasty on the underside of a café table if you’ve not got a marketing plan, and a good one. Also bear in mind that, hello, technology, love it or hate it, is a very important part of how well you’ll do as far as sales are concerned. It’s my opinion, and Aaron will probably back me up on this, that social media is still a large part of the best marketing plans for eBooks, and rightly so. Until the sea changes again, Facebook and Twitter are necessary evils at worst, and powerful tools at best.

Look, folks, the marketplace is changing everyday. It’s been that way ever since uncle Abu was hawking fish in the square in Mesopotamia and keeping the accounting ledger in Cuneiform. I love to write. In order to keep doing that, I have to sell the books I produce. While it’s not rocket science, there are certain requisites. I hope this longish post helped to illustrate some of those, and that you’ll be applying some of these tips to your own journey as a professional. Look alive; it’s a wonderful time to be a creator and artist.

~Chris White (C.P. White Media Blog)

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