Saturday, March 30, 2013

Buying Advertising

There are tons of opportunities for free promotion for authors, but as the old saying goes "With free, you get what you pay for." It's chancy at best. For some of us, it's about all we can afford, but sometimes we have a bit of money and start thinking about buying a promotional package.

There are many places that will create promotional packages for authors. Likewise, there are a variety of advertising opportunities on websites, blogs, in
magazines, newspapers and ezines. How do you decide on advertising?

I spent several years selling advertising and then several more years helping people buy it. Here are a few things to consider:


You visit a book promotion website and you see that they will give you a promotional package for $100. The premium package is $150. The Super Colossal Premium package is $200. Another site has three packaged for $75, $95 and $125. The second site is the best value, right?

Not necessarily.  You know the old saying about comparing apples and oranges. To figure costs, you need a standard of measurement. That standard in advertising is Cost Per Thousand (CPM). Let's take an example to make this comparison clear.

You visit two websites of blog tour organizers. Both will place your information on 25 blogs. One charges you $100 and the other charges $150. So, the first is the best deal, right? Well, slow down, Amigos. We don't know from that description which is the best deal. The question we have to ask is how many "eyes on product" we are going to get. You have to dig deeper. What is the total average traffic to those 25 blogs?

Blog Tour A has 5,000 hits on average compared to 15,000 on Blog Tour B. Now for some basic math.

Blog tour A 100/5 = $20 Cost per 1000 impressions.

Blog tour B 150/15 = $10 Cost per 1000 impressions.

Blog tour B actually delivers more "bang for the buck" even though the package costs more.

Before buying any advertising find out the total readership or number of impressions that medium offers and then do the math.


Reach is related to cost since it refers to two factors: number of readers/viewers and number of ad impressions. Let's define each of these aspects of reach.

Unique Readers/Viewers/Visitors. This is the actual number of individuals who subscribe, buy, watch or surf to the publication. Don't confuse this number with total number of hits to a website. If one person visits a web site five times or visits only once and accesses five pages, that's five hits. If you want to know the number of people you will reach ask the ad representative to tell you the number of unique visitors to the website. The same goes for long term advertising in the broadcast media.

Total number of impressions. This is how many times someone sees/hears your promotional message. If five people visit a website and see your ad, that's five impressions. However, if one person comes to the website five times, that's five impressions as well. The number of impressions is important because advertising has a cumulative effect. The more often someone sees an ad, the more likely they are to investigate the product.

If you can find out these two numbers, you will learn a lot about the medium. Some media, like blogs and certain other websites, have impressions that outnumber unique visitors by many times. That means you have the same people visiting that website often. The same goes for a magazine with a good subscriber base and frequent publication.

What you want to have is some sort of balance. You want to have a medium that has a significant number of unique readers/viewers/listeners/visitors, but you also want something that will impact those people more than once over a period of time. Too few unique visitors and you don't have a large enough base to reach those few who are ready to buy. Too few return visits and you have to sell them on their first impression.


Not only is the number of people reached important, but also what people. You could be selling your book about dressmaking and find a magazine with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and a great cost per thousand, but if that magazine is Macho Man Weekly, it is unlikely to do you much good. There might well be some Macho Men who also make dresses, but probably not many.

A little common sense can go a long way. Ask yourself who the likely reader of your book is going to be. Don't say "everyone," because that isn't going to happen. I write cozy mysteries. So, an ad for my cozy mystery in a magazine geared toward World of Warcraft gamers is unlikely to be well received. However, an ad in a magazine that publishes who-dun-it short stories would.

Read the website/magazine. Look at the ads. If possible get back issues and see which ads have been running for some time. People wouldn't keep running their ad in a publication if it wasn't working. Are they for books similar to yours in terms of content or genre? If so, then that's probably a good place to advertise. If not, then go elsewhere.

Support Services

Sometimes you will find an advertising venue that has a great price, a good reach and the right demographics, but they don't provide much in the way of support. Are you comfortable creating your own ad? Do you know how to use Photoshop or some similar program to create a 200X300 pixel RGB 300 dpi resolution image. Do you know what that is? If you are buying radio or TV, can you produce your own commercial? Probably not. Will they provide these services as part of the price of the ad? Will you have to pay extra for it? Will they do it at all?

Other support services might include: analytics on your ad, click through counts, copywriting help, stock images, voice over, inclusion in other media like a radio station newsletter or a TV station website.

They say it pays to advertise. The truth is you pay to advertise. If you pay attention to these aspects of advertising, you can get more "bang for your buck."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Is Blogging Necessary?

Photo Credit kpwerker
I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with blogging. I've done it inconsistently for years. I know that to be "successful" at blogging you have to do it on a regular basis. However, I find that hard to do. Possibly, it's because I'm not the sort of person who just blogs to be blogging or to share my life. I treat blogging more like writing a column or an article. Regardless, I am not a "consistent" blogger. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because there is a belief that ALL writers MUST blog. Some publishing companies require their authors to blog regularly. There is an assumption that blogging is a major part of marketing success for the writer. 

Recently, though, some writers are challenging the popular wisdom. A recent article by L.L. Barkat (ironically published in a blog) contends that experienced writers should stop blogging. Barkat argues that the impact on sales is so low that it is pretty useless as a marketing tool. 

In this, I have to agree. Think about the time involved. This post will take at least a half hour to write, possibly an hour. I'll probably want to find some sort of graphic and maybe tweak a few things before posting. Although, I admit that I do only very basic editing for these. In an hour, I can write 1500 words on a novel, write the copy for a web page for a client, hit a half dozen social media sites with a few thousand followers. Meanwhile, on a good day, my blog will draw a couple of hundred readers. 

In advertising, we talk about cost per thousand for advertising. Considering that my base pay is $25 an hour, even if I get 250 readers, that's a CPM of $100. Hardly a bargain. Okay, if I spent more time I might build up that readership, but again that's time spent marketing that I am not being paid for. The increase in readership will likely cost me the same CPM because I will need to spend more time promoting the blog. 

Does this mean a blog is useless for writers? Far from it. Even Barkatt notes "No. I encourage new bloggers, just the way I always have. It’s an excellent way to find expression, discipline, and experience."

Of course  you can do the same thing in other ways. Editing a church or club newsletter, writing a column in a local newspaper, writing for a website or ezine. Even journaling can develop those skills without the angst of feeling like a failure if no one comments. 

(Note: If you do blog, do not judge your success or failure by the number of comments you receive. Only a small number of people reading a blog will comment. One to two percent is a good response. Readership and interaction are quite different critters. Some who interact don't read as closely as some who do not.) 

For the nonfiction writer, blogging probably is more useful promotionally than for fiction writers. A popular blog can establish the writer as an expert in his or her field. However, the blog posts must contain useful information that readers can apply to their lives, hobbies, businesses or families. But this is a different type of animal than much blogging that focuses on providing personal insights into the writer's life, reviews of books the author likes or even interviews with other authors. This type of blog is more like a series of how-to or journalistic articles that explain or instruct the reader in some way. 

A final value of blogging is that of personal expression. So much of what we do as writers is filtered through the lenses of someone else - an editor, client, reviewer or reader. In a blog post, you can be yourself. Once, you forget about the idea of the blog being this killer piece of marketing, and accept it as a place for personal expression, you can use it to get out all those things that don't really have a market anywhere else. 

So, does an author NEED a blog? No. Can a writer benefit from a blog? Yes, but it depends on the writer, the writing and the expectations that writer brings to blogging. 

I don't know when I'll post another blog post. I enjoy writing them, but I do have paying work to do. I have a small readership, I trust you enjoy these little missives when I write them. I'll keep blogging on my terms when, and only when, I have something to say and not out of any sense of authorial obligation. I hope you will do the same. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Of Writers, Rules and Insanity

[I posted this on an email loop the other day and got a lot of good responses. One person even created a meme out of one of the quotes I included here. I hope you enjoy it.]

Kristen Stieffel surprised me with this on Facebook
Someone mentioned in a post here the old saying about insanity as being defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. They also noted that when they tried something different, that was more in line with their own life situation, it worked for them. 

As writers, we are inundated by suggestions masquerading as "rules." A writer finds something that works for them and suddenly it's the "one and only" way to do things. I remember reading a book by a woman pontificating about the way to create a plot outline. It had to be detailed. Each scene worked out in advance and following a certain pattern. The irony of that was that the only book I could find written by this woman was the book on writing novels. She had never actually written one herself. In fact, aside from a couple of articles in literary magazines and the book on novel writing, she had published almost nothing. 

Nevertheless, she, like many other writers and teachers, stood ready to tell you that she had the exclusive insight on how to write a novel. The fact that many successful professional novelists did not follow her approach was irrelevant. They broke her "rules" for novel writing. 

These "rules" multiply like toadstools after a rain storm (and can be just as poisonous to the writer's creativity.) One writer will tell you that you must write in the morning. Another knows for a fact that night time is correct. One says you must file everything neatly and clean your desk because a clean and orderly desk is a clean and orderly mind. Another will tell you that constant cleaning is just a way to avoid writing and that a cluttered desk shows you are really working. 

You must use Scrivener. No, you need to do everything on a plain text word processor. No, MS-Word is the industry standard so you should compose on that program. 

When it comes to plotting, there is no end to the ideas - snowflakes, wagon wheels, heroes journey, scale the mountain, three-act and five-act designs. Seat of the pants vs. Detailed plotting. Each have their champions and success stories. 

So, who's right? They all are. Then who's wrong? They all are. 

The creative process is different for each of us. Some of us work well in the morning. Others do better at night. I don't know if I'm a morning person or a night person since my best time is from about 1 - 4 a.m. That's technically morning, but, since I hadn't gone to bed, I guess it is still night. However for me to tell you that you should work those hours would be ridiculous. 

Ask yourself, when are you at your peak during the day. Not when should you be at your peak. Set aside what "normal" is for the rest of the world. You're a writer. The "normal" ship sailed without you long ago. Listen to your own biological clock. 

Some people need absolute quiet. Others work well with music. Others can plop themselves down in the middle of chaos. Which are you? I like either quiet or "white noise" like in a library, coffee shop, or someplace like that. With music light classical, Baroque or "ambient" sounds work best for me. Singing makes me want to sing along. 

Some will tell you to disable all the social networking alerts. If they distract you so much that you can't work, that's a good idea. For me, being alone most of the time, it's kind of nice to know there are other people out there online at the same time as me. I glance up, smile and get back to work. 

Some writers will tell you that you need to set aside at least an hour a day or write "X" number of words. They will tell you that this must be at the same time each day. This is good advice if it works for you. There is value to a routine. There's a good deal of evidence to support that idea for most people, but "most" people is not the same as "all" people. 

Also, for some of us, writing an hour straight through is just not practical either because of health issues (like my aching back telling me right now to finish this missive and go lay down) or time constraints. 

Think about your own schedule. What will work for you? When you write for a long time do you keep your energy all the way through or do you find yourself dragging during the last 30 minutes or so. If the latter, then maybe two 30 minute writing sessions may work better for you than a full hour all at once. Or not. 

The point is. Listen to everyone, but make your decisions based on how God designed you. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Building a Platform through Publishing

Since my last several posts have dealt with self-publishing, you may think I have no interest in traditional publishing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have some future projects in mind that I would love to have the support of a larger traditional publisher. By that I mean one that would give me an advance against royalties in four figures or above, editing and design support, and some effective paid marketing.

So, why not chuck the whole self-publishing bit and spend my time sending out queries to agents (that type of publisher doesn't take queries or unsolicited manuscripts) and writing the great novel that they will just adore? One simple reason: It ain't gonna happen!

Sure when I was in high school, I believed the typical fairy tale you see in the movies of the novice who writes a novel that gets accepted by a major publisher and within a few weeks is on the bestseller list. However, that's just not likely to happen. Publishers, especially large publishers, don't like risking a lot of money on an unproven product. That is why, agents and publishers alike today ask the question that stops many authors dead in their tracks: "What's your platform?"

In a previous post we talked about the importance of platforms. The platform is a group of people that you can influence to buy your book. That can include your circle of family and friends, colleagues at work, social media contacts and any type of public venues that  you work in or through. For instance, a motivational speaker who holds 30 or so workshops a year with 200 or more people per workshop has a platform of 6000 people a year.

However, most of us don't have that type of a platform. So, the other question, they might ask is about your track record as a writer. Of course, this is the old Catch-22. You need to be published to have a track record, but you find it hard to get published if you don't have a track record.

Indie publishing can not only help you make money in the short term and hone your writing skills, it can also be your key to building a platform.

I did a quick check the other day. Since the first of the year, I've had 5800 books downloaded from Kindle. Some of those are free promotions. About a third are actual sales. I figure about 1000 or so downloaded more than one of my books. That's bigger than my social media contacts or my personal friends list by a long shot. It is also my platform.

Since they are buying more than one book by me, that means that they are likely to buy more. At this point, I wouldn't consider that platform large enough to impress an agent. However, in a few months, I'm hoping to grow it to 10,000 downloads and 2000 or more repeat buyers. That is something I can bring to the table in negotiating with a larger publisher.

But Kindle publishing or other book self-publishing venues are not the only sources for building a following by publishing. Another is through blogging. As you know, I'm a bit inconsistent in my blogging. However, many authors blog regularly and have a core of followers who look forward to each post.

Setting up a web site with dynamic content that you change frequently that deals with a topic of interest to people is another way to build a platform. If you write science fiction stories, having a website that posts news of science fiction literature, video and movies can help establish you as a science fiction expert. The traffic to that website becomes your platform.

If you want to break into the big leagues, you have to bring your fan base with you. No, it isn't fair, but that's the reality of today's publishing world. Fortunately, there are many ways to build that platform.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How Direct to Reader Publishing is Empowering Authors

I was thinking the other day about possibly next year finding an agent to see if I could land a decent contract with a larger publisher. I put out a request for input on another list. As I was writing, I was making 'demands.' The agent would have to have a good track record. I would want to see a list of books s/he had recently placed and with what publishers. I would want a list of references. Then I was thinking about the publishing deal. I would need an advance equivalent to what I would likely make from selling indie for at least a year (the average time it takes for a book to reach market traditionally). I would need more than the standard 10% royalty, some input over pricing, and access to all the marketing tools on Amazon. I would also need monthly sales reports so I could adjust marketing to the sales.

Then I stopped and said, "Where's Terri Main and what have you done with her?" This is not the same woman who for 40 years has went hat in hand to publishers taking whatever contract or payment they offered. What made the difference? Quite simply, I don't need them anymore.
When I started doing some limited self-publishing last year, I was thinking primarily of short works, Bible studies, writing guides, etc. that would give me a little extra income. I was focusing on the types of writing for which there exists no market outside of electronic self-publishing. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Okay, stunned is more accurate. I kept adding more. But I never thought about taking long works like novels and full length nonfiction as indie works. After all, I was a "serious writer." It's okay to play around with self-publishing small things, but books, to be recognized as a writer you "need" a publisher. And I had one, so that was where I was sending my next novel.

Then came the bad news. As a retired college instructor, I was supplementing my income with some part-time teaching. My position was cut. I needed to replace that income. I had three novels in various stages of production, but it took a year from acceptance to publication of my last novel and I only sold 52 copies in two years. Maybe I wasn't even that good. Besides, fiction is a hard sell. I was being told, it takes several books for you to build up a following. Maybe you need to do another blog tour.

I had done everything "right." Got a publisher. Did the blog interviews. Sent out review copies. I'm not exactly sure what my publisher did other than edit, format and distribute the books through the various online venues. No advertising. Marketing was basically up to me. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel cheated or anything. They treated me well, but I was under the gun. I couldn't wait 12-18 months to see a book published that would only sell a handful of copies.

So, I published my next novels on my own and in a few weeks sold more copies than I did in two years with my publisher. I started getting positive reviews on Amazon and people emailing asking about when the next book would be out. And I was getting paid every month (60 days after the sale) instead of once a quarter. Of course, I had to do the formatting and editing and marketing myself. But I was already doing most of the marketing already, but without access to the very powerful marketing tools you have available in Amazon (Note: I discuss these tools in greater depth in my book Point of Sale)

Suddenly, I was enjoying a modest popularity for my books. They were selling a few copies every day instead of one or two a month. At this point, I'm doing pretty well, but I notice that when I talk about this, there is a type of backlash from a lot of traditionally published authors and especially from some who are strongly associated with agents and publishers.

This brings me to the crux of this post. The technology that has made self-publishing possible is what sociologists call a "disruptive" technology. It doesn't just enhance the status quo. It changes it entirely. It's like the automobile, the steam engine and the internet. Ebook and Publish On Demand technologies are reducing the power of the traditional publishing industry and it's gatekeepers.

Authors don't need publishers just to get their books in front of the public. They don't need them to get them into bookstores. The biggest bookstore that ever existed - - is available to anyone who wants to publish there. And indie published books can sit right next to traditionally published ones competing on an level playing field. The reader doesn't know or care if the book was published by a Big Name publisher or by a small publisher or by the author. The reader just checks out the sample and if s/he likes it clicks the button and it's downloaded into their reading device.

And the author gets 35-70 percent of the sale compared to 10-15 percent from a traditional publisher. S/he can also adjust the price point personally to maximize sales and profits.

The author doesn't need an agent to act as an intermediary between the author and publisher, who in turn provided access to the reader.

So, what does this mean. Does it mean the days of traditional publishing are numbered. Not by a long shot. For one thing, indie publishing is hard work. You have to do everything yourself if you hope to get any profit. That means writing, editing, formatting and marketing. You can, of course, outsource this stuff, but that can seriously cut into your profits. And if you mess up on the editing and formatting, the grammar Nazis will come out of the woodwork and slam your novel with one-star reviews. It may be a faster way to publication, but it is also harder.

What it does mean, though, is that the Author, even if s/he has no intention of self publishing, is empowered in a way they never have been. Since they no longer need a Patron or publisher to get their book to market for almost no money, an accomplished writing with some credentials can negotiate a better deal. S/he can say to a publisher, if you want to publish this book, here are a few things I need. Obviously, they need to be reasonable demands and open to negotiation, but the author knows s/he has self-publishing to fall back on which can produce as good if not better sales than traditional at a higher royalty. The publishers know this as well. And when it comes to talking to an agent, even a mid list writer can approach an agent not with hat in hand asking "Please take me on as a client. What do I have to do to get your representation?" The indie author with a significant sales record or the traditionally published author with a few titles under his or her belt can say, "Mr./Ms. Agent, what can you do for me if I sign with your agency?"

Of course, it goes without saying you have to have a good product and some sort of track record either in indie or traditional publishing. But many authors with good credentials still are bowing low in hopes of getting a book contract and are taking just about anything when they really don't need to anymore.

Whether or not you want to go indie, those who are doing so are putting you in a better position as an author to deal with traditional publishers. We are empowering all authors and not just indies.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chromebook for Writers

Samsung Chromebook
This weekend I was out of town and all I had was my iPad. iPad - Great for Surfing the internet, playing games and reading. Not so great for writing. However, my laptop is a 18 inch, 32 GB Ram 25 pound Alienware desktop replacement. Considering what I paid for this behemoth, I have considered only using it in a closed safe.

Seriously, it is great for my recliner, but it's not the sort of thing you are going to take to the library or sit on a park bench and write. Being retired, I've gotten in the habit of just staying in my house and I'm thinking I need to get out more. So, I needed a cheap, portable computer I could throw in my purse to use on the go.

I ended up getting a Samsung Chromebook for $250 at Best Buy. That's cheap enough that if it gets lost or broken, I haven't lost much.

So, for those of you who are not quite as up on tech issues as some of the more nerdish among you, a Chromebook is a relatively new concept in computing from Google, the people who brought you the search engine, Android phones, Chrome browser and some sort of data glasses in the future.

Basically, all the apps run in the chrome browser installed on the computer. About 2/3 of these run in the cloud (online). However, some of the basics like wordprocessing and spreadsheet can run offline, then when reconnected, the resulting documents are stored on Google Drive in the cloud.

Overall, I'm finding the computer to be pretty much what I wanted. It exists in usefulness somewhere between a tablet and a full laptop.

So, let's look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this device. First, cost. I paid $250 for my device which has an 11 inch screen and nearly a full sized keyboard. I could have gotten a similar machine for $199, but it didn't have the glare resistant screen or the six hour battery life that mine does.

My machine also has two USB ports, an SD card port and an HDMI connector. There is no DVD/CD slot. The laptop has a video camera, microphone, headphone jack and stereo speakers.

The other big cost saving is software. Just about everything running on the ChromeOS is free. Google Docs and Zoho Docs are both free programs that also have an offline version. Although, I have to say that Zobo Writer keeps getting stuck when trying to load a large file. If you are online, you can also use Microsoft Office tools including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher for free. Incidentally, you can subscribe and download the entire suite for $9.95 a month and install it legally on five windows machines. But that's just an aside.

The MS-Office web apps are somewhat scaled down versions of the desktop programs, but they are good enough for most on the go editing and writing.

Having used all three (Zoho, Google and Word), I would say that I personally like Google docs a bit better, however, Word was good as well. Since they are all free, I suggest you try them all, if you get a Chromebook. As far as that goes, you can try them all if you don't have a Chromebook just by finding the programs on the web.

There is a product for free very similar to Scrivener called Scriptito which includes a social component where you can share your writing and get feedback from the Scriptito community.

Another cool thing about the Chromebook is it's weight. It's about 2.4 pounds and .7 inches thin. My sister saw it sitting next to my iPad and said, "You could easily get those mixed up." She's right it's just a couple of inches bigger than my iPad, but is much roomier to type on.

As for speed, there is no comparison. It goes from powered down to fully booted in less than 10 seconds. It is, after all, a single function computer. It loads a special version of the Chrome browser that all the apps run under. Also, launching an app takes just a few seconds. The response time within the apps is also impressive.

Currently, it is fairly safe from viruses, but if it becomes a popular operating system, someone will decide to attack it. However, at this point, it is safe.

However, on the flip side, don't expect to replace your laptop or desktop with this device. Just about all the apps are scaled down versions of what you can run on a desktop or a good quality laptop. You can write your story and edit it, using MS-Office share point, you can do some collaboration with your editor or co author, but if you are doing publishing, photo editing, video or audio production, this is not going to be adequate.

Also, there is a learning curve. The keyboard is slightly different. You don't have a caps lock and there is a control key function you need to use. It doesn't have a right mouse button and you tap with two fingers to access right click functions. The lack of a delete button makes editing interesting because you have to put the cursor behind what you want to remove and use the backspace key.

The Chromebook, though, is a good second computer. Like that second car, which is nothing special just basic transportation, the Chromebook is just basic computing. It's inexpensive, fast, makes good use of the cloud services and has a long battery life. For something to take to the library, make video calls, watch movies or listen to music. To sit someplace quiet and just write, it's well worth the money at this price. I wouldn't say the higher priced ones are worth it, though.