Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Books, Books, and MORE Books

Went over to the church yesterday to help set up this year’s fundraising book sale for the choir. It’s a fairly big deal. You’ve never seen so many books inside a single room, this side of a library. When you look at piles and piles of books, you have to wonder: who writes all these titles, why, and more to the point for a micropublisher, how can anybody possibly compete, given the sheer mass of product out there?

So what did I learn, if anything, from this?

Despite the prevailing wisdom about the profitability of flooding Amazon with electronic titles, one probably would be better off to publish fewer titles of high quality or broad pragmatic use. Instead of publishing a lot of titles, it may be better to invest one’s time and financial resources in marketing one or two titles.

Very, very few titles stand out. Too often — especially where genre novels are concerned — cover design conveys the message that you’re looking at more of the same. Even literary novels rarely grab one’s attention, unless the author is someone  you’ve read and liked. Or hated. Many cookbooks are similarly uninteresting; ditto travel books. Some children’s books stand out, partly because design is integral to the entire package, not just to the cover.

So here’s a question: Would it be possible to create a book for adults whose interior design is as important as the cover art? I mean, other than a coffee-table book. Could a novel or a history book or an inspirational book be designed in the same way as a child’s book, without bankrupting its maker? That really is a question, because as we know, children’s books are very expensive to produce.

Some types of amateurishly produced bookoids become collector’s items. This is especially true of cookbooks. There are folks out there who collect cookbooks produced by clubs, charitable groups, schools, and the like.  Some of the older examples we put out on tables look like they were run off on mimeograph machines; others appear to have been printed and coil-bound at Staples or OfficeMax. But most of those didn’t stay on the tables! Volunteers grabbed them up and paid for them as we worked.

Short form lessons for wanna-be book publishers:

Every title must stand out. If you’re going to hire a designer, it will pay to hire the best. A run-of-the-mill designer will create a run-of-the-mill cover, and your product won’t be noticed whether it’s on Amazon or a bookstore shelf.

Whether you’ve got a truly great book or just another piece of escapist genre fiction, marketing is key. In a vast tsunami of books, not even the best of books will be noticed unless it’s drawn forcefully to the public’s attention.

Nonfiction books should be tightly focused on a specific aspect of their subject matter. So many cookbooks, so many travel books, so many inspirational books, so many craft books, so many this, that, and the other books are out there that a publisher needs to draw the buyer’s attention to something different or highly specific in order to stand apart from the crowd. That, my friends, is easier said than done.

No doubt many more messages lurk in the second-hand book sale.

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In closely related precincts, while I was at Whole Foods last week, I asked the manager if he’d be interested in selling the very whole-foodsy 30 Pounds/4 Months diet/cookbook. He was interested but said at the moment the post of “forager” (yes!) for the department that sells books and magazines was empty — they were looking for someone to fill the job. He suggested I check back now and again.

If you want to work for Whole Foods, you have some retail experience, and you live in Phoenix, you might want to keep an eye on their “help wanted” postings. 😉

So far, I have yet to figure out how to fix the formatting for the .mobi version of 30 Pounds. Nothing I’ve tried works. Short of retyping it from beginning to end in a fresh template, I cannot see how to fix it. I suppose I’ll have to track down an ebook formatter who can break into the code and clean up whatever weirdnesses Wyrd has inserted in there. My guy right now is pretty swamped — people are lined up at his door to get him to work on their bookoids. He’s usually slow, but I’ll bet he’s really slow right now.

The advertising campaign I launched on Smart Bitches/Trashy Books seems to at least be putting eyeballs on our book covers. The most recent report shows, in this week alone for the four books we’re advertising:

Bobbi and the Biker: 77,889 impressions, 48 clicks on the ad
Bobbi’s Secret Life: 77,641 impressions; 82 clicks
One Night at the Library: 77,658 impressions; 54 clicks
Science Teacher: 77,595 impressions; 77  clicks

How many of the folks who clicked on the ads bought a book? None. We’ve sold two Racy Books this month…but neither of them were those Racy Books.

We’ve also sold one, count it (1) copy of the first collection of Fire-Rider books. That is not anywhere near as well as we did last month, which wasn’t what one would call “very” well.

However, Fire-Rider is garnering some very nice reviews. Book I, for example, nailed FOUR five-star reviews! If  ego boosts bought groceries, this one would stock the pantry for a year:

Reminds me of Robert Adams’ _Horseclans_ series in the way you can dimly see the strands of our present world shimmering in the fabric of a far-future United States.

I had a bit of trouble at first keeping track of the characters, but that resolved as the story went on, and I found the developing interrelationship between the two characters, Kay and Tavio, intriguing. One thing I appreciated was that while there was a lot of information about this world descended from ours, it seeped in through the story and wasn’t dumped on me all at once.

My chief complaint was that the story ended just as the story was getting interesting – I know, the nature of episodic fiction! I’ve added the first boxed set to my wishlist.

No idea who’s writing these things, but whoever you are, ♥♥♥♥♥♥

5-star reviews LoRes

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.

5 Comments

  1. In the first days of Kindle, early adopters could make some money and some did quite well. Some still do. But there is a business maxim: Excess profits breeds ruinous competition and that is where we on Kindle have arrived today.

    It takes little skill to post a title and good or bad each addition muddies the water. There are just soooo many books out there on Kindle now and readers only have so much time, after all.

    But now the idea that you can just add a dozen titles and get rich seems to have taken on a life of its own although it is not true. Few titles gain traction anymore and we are back to the tried and true of the book biz: Big names sell.

    I sold more two years ago than I do now and I am only on Amazon…just don’t see it as worth my time to attempt the intricacies of the other platforms…do not see the ROI there…I only have so much time, as well…and I refuse to work for pennies an hour.

    It was a little fun while it lasted however!

    • Thanks for your insight!

      If you take the experience I’ve had so far as representative, too, then it certainly does sound as though you’ve got something there. Mine may not be representative, however: I haven’t been doing it long enough, marketed vigorously enough, or learned all the ins and outs yet. Your two years’+ experience speaks a great deal more distinctly than what I’ve managed so far.

      It doesn’t bode well for the future of the book industry, IMHO.

      Before, we had an increasingly limited number (thanks to endless mergers & acquisitions) of effective publishing houses whose editors served as gatekeepers, winnowing out a great deal of chaff.

      Now we have a vast near-monopoly that has opened the floodgates. With no gatekeepers, the consumer has to try to sift what’s worth buying and what’s chaff…in a gigantic mountain of chaff. Eventually consumers will simply stop buying, except, as you suggest, from the Big Names that represent a known quantity.

      And you know…I can generate MOBI, ePub, and other types of ebook files on my own websites, so readers can buy direct from P&S or Camptown Races — and that would allow me to drop my price on a $10 book to $7.50 and still make the same profit as I would on Amazon without the dictatorial hassles and restrictions. That means Simon & Schuster et al. can do the same. Whenever they figure this out, they can simply walk away from Amazon, leaving Amazon to publish nothing but the unsifted.

      If you can’t sell your books because they’re competing with so much low-quality material that readers won’t buy any independently “published” book, we end up in the same circumstances we had before: only a select set of writers — most of them Ivy-Leaguers from the same schools as their agents and editors — can access major publishing houses, which may take upwards of two years to go through a publication process that should, once the copy is fully edited and clean, take about two months, max.

      Have you tried marketing your books locally, or through outlets such as retailers that sell products whose readers might find your book interesting? For example, local Whole Foods or Sprouts for a cookbook, or the local Sports Authority for a book on coaching soccer…along those lines?

      • Funny: To be honest, I cannot see where it’s worth the time or effort to try and place my books locally…and, being even more honest, I do not enjoy selling.

        I still enjoy writing but my time is so much better remunerated elsewhere that it begs the question — why bother except for my own kicks and giggles?

        If you are publishing for the money, I imagine it will be a tough slog and tougher every day for no reason other than the floodgates of new titles on the Amazon Kindle platform remain wide open and the torrent continues…sigh…

        As to the big publishers thinking they could go independent of Amazon…I do not see it happening…I do not believe buyers will want to search out titles at the website of each publisher when they can simply go to Amazon.

        Good luck, however, and thank you for your updates…I find the book biz really interesting but recognize that as much as Amazon changed it, it is changing right back before our very eyes.

  2. There was an article in Sunday’s NYTimes biz section: “A Self Publisher Making an Imprint” about the highly successful erotic-romance writer Merideth Wild starting her own imprint and taking on other erotic-romance writers. Since you seem to be better at writing than marketing, why not look into her imprint: Waterhouse Press. Spend more time writing and less time spinning your wheels with preparations and marketing. It may result in a bigger income.
    Just a suggestion…

    • Yes, we spotted that. After a spread like that in the Times, you can be sure she’s already swamped with people at her door, but I think I will pick out the best of our efforts — a couple are pretty good, surprisingly enough — and see if I can interest her in them. All she can do is say “no”…she can’t hit me over the Internet. 😉