Selling a Book is Business 101

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

Many newbie authors don’t understand how basic retailing works. I sometimes see posts on author’s forums from people who are most upset because Amazon is selling their books below THEIR price.

Let’s Take a Short Course in Business 101

You write a book. You then want to sell your book. (And who doesn’t?) There are different way to accomplish this, depending on the book format. These days most authors sell an ebook and a print edition. I’m now going to explain the differences in how they are distributed.

eBook Editions

For ebook editions distribution is pretty simple. You upload your file to Amazon or Smashwords. You determine your retail price. Amazon asks you what percentage of that price do you want them to pay you as a royalty. You make you selection, submit your file, and viola! You ebook is now available for purchase, at your price.

So, how are you able to do this? Well, simply put, ebooks are intangible. They’re an electronic file. Amazon didn’t purchase tangible, printed copies of your book for resale.

Print Editions

Print editions are different. They are a tangible product. It costs money to have them printed and distributed to booksellers. So, how does this work?

Most small press and independent authors will usually use Print on Demand. POD for short. Here’s how POD works. Once your book is typeset and your cover is designed, you upload the file to the distributor, which, oftentimes, is Ingram. You include your retail price, along with a discount, typically 55%. That discounted price is your wholesale price. Your retail price is, essentially, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, or the MSRP.

So what’s a wholesale price?

Your wholesale price is what resellers, or retailers, you know, book stores, pay for your book. They then stock your books in their store.

So why aren’t they selling your book for your price?

The retail price is what the consumer, in this case, the person who wants to read your book, pays to purchase it from the bookseller.

The bookseller has overhead expenses, such as rent, the electric bill, and so forth. Therefore, he or she has to factor in their overhead and sell the book at a price so that they can make a profit. That price may be the same as your MSRP, or it may be less. If they can sell it for less, the consumer is more likely to buy. If they are having a sale, they may drop the price even lower. Either way, the final retail price is determined by the bookseller, not the author. The author’s price, which is printed on the book cover, is the suggested price only. There is no written agreement between the author and the bookseller.

Your other option–print and distribute it yourself

If you’re not happy with the way books are printed and distributed you can print and distribute your book yourself. Some authors choose to do this, and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, there are some disadvantages. First, you’ll have to find a book printer and pay for a print run, which is typically 500 or 1000 books. That’s a lot of books, so you’ll need a place to store them.

Once you have your print books in hand, you can sell them directly from your own website at your MSRP. Again, some authors do this, quite successfully, but it’s also a lot of work. Once a book is sold you’re responsible for the shipping, so plan on spending time waiting in line at the Post Office. You can also sell the book yourself on Amazon as a third party seller. However, you’re still responsible for fulfilling the order, which means you’re still the one who has to go to the Post Office.

So there you have it. If you want total control of the MSRP, and you don’t want anyone selling your book for anything less, then you’ll have assume responsibility for the printing and distribution, and well as fulfilling the orders. Again, some authors do this successfully, while others do not.

Gayle Martin

 

How to Create a Book Video

photo by Gayle Martin

One of the perks of being a novel writer is learning new skills, and one of the new skills I learned was video production. Book videos are a must-have tool for building your brand and marketing your book(s). They’re like a TV commercial or a movie trailer and they’re used on websites, blogs, and social media. There are several different ways to go about producing a book video. The most common are slideshows, author readings, and book trailers

Video Slideshows

Back in the mid 2000s, when I wrote my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, Internet videos were a new technology. Video editing software was expensive and difficult to use. So, back then, many authors produced video slideshows, which were easy to create in Powerpoint. My first two book videos were simple PowerPoint presentations that I produced myself for very little money.

Even today, you can still create a nice video slideshow without having to spend a lot of money. Powerpoint has come a long way, and nowadays you can animate slides, record voice overs, and add music tracks to your presentation. Or you can take it to the next level and produce your slideshow in iMovie or one of its Windows counterparts. Whatever approach you take is entirely up to you.

Author Readings

Thanks for smartphones, we all have a camcorder in our pocket. Those authors who wish to make a more personal connection with their readers may opt to read a portion of their book to their readers. Such videos are inexpensive and easy to produce. All you need is a smartphone, a tripod, and some basic video editing software, such as iMovie.

Lighting, however, may be a challenge, so you should definitely take some test shots of your set before you begin shooting. If you have the means, consider hiring someone to shoot the video for you. A professional will know how to light the scene and can determine which camera angles are the most flattering. Either way, be sure to read a sample that’s interesting and action packed, but don’t give too much of your story away.

Book Trailers

Book trailers are like movie trailers. You shoot a few scenes from your book, but like the author reading, you don’t want to give too much of your story away. The idea is to entice a potential reader.

Unlike slideshows and author readings, book trailers are more expensive to create, and in most cases you’ll need to hire a professional to produce the video for you. Be sure to read their contract carefully before you sign. You may also need to hire actors. If so, they will need to sign a release form, granting you their permission to use their image. There are many release form templates available for download on the Internet, and oftentimes they are free.

Whether you are creating your video yourself or hiring a pro, there are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to producing a video.

Royalty Free Doesn’t Mean Copyright Free

Some people think royalty free means copyright free. However, this isn’t the case at all. Royalty free is a term for a particular type of licensing agreement. Simply put, it means you don’t have to pay the right holder each time their image or music is used. You still have to pay a one time licensing fee up front to use the footage or music. There may also be limits on how the footage or music can be used. For example, it may be limited to editorial or non-commercial use only, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Other Sources

Pond5 is my go-to company for video production. You name it, they probably have it. Stock footage, music, photos, and whatever else you may need. Shutterstock and Can Stock Photo are also good sources. All of these companies will charge a fee, so you may want to shop around. Be sure to read the licensing agreement before you buy, and be wary of any website giving you “free” stuff. The quality may not be that great, and you may be buying pirated materials.

And finally

Whether you’re doing a simple slideshow video, or hiring a professional and doing a full board production, it’s important to remember that content is king. You want viewers to take an interest in your books, but you don’t want to give them too much information either.

I’ve posted one of my  book trailers below. It’s for my Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Deception. I’ve come a long way since I created my first book video. Instead of a simple Powerpoint slideshow, I’m now producing book trailers.

Gayle Martin

 

It Takes a Team to Write a Book

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

According to a political slogan in the 1990s, it takes a village to raise a child. Here’s the version for authors. It takes a team to write a book. So who’s on the team?

The captain

The author is the team captain. He or she is the star of the show. For some, the word, author, may bring an image to mind of someone in an isolated house by the seashore, working away at their typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were so. Most of us are working on laptops in our dens or bedrooms, when we have the time. For many of us, our jobs, families and social obligations take priority. However, those of us who are serious about our writing will make the time.

Team members

The beta reader. The first person on the team is the beta reader. He or she should be an avid reader, but not necessarily a writer. If willing, your spouse, your mom, or your best friend can be your beta reader. The beta reader goes over the early drafts to let the writer know if their story makes sense or if they’re communicating their point clearly. I’ve had friends and family members as beta readers, and they’ve all done a good job. .

Writer’s associations and critique groups. Not everyone will have someone in their circle who’s willing to give them honest feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writers associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups typically meet once a week, either in person or online, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. Like a beta reader, they can help save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend joining a writer’s association, especially if you are a new or first-time author. Some associations, such as Romance Authors of America, are genre specific. Others are open to the writing community at large. Typically, these associations will have monthly meetings with a guest speaker. They are invaluable for learning your craft and networking with other authors.

The first officer

If the author is the captain, the editor would be the first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog about why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct the gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. It’s the editor who separates the pros from the amateurs.

Please note that unless your spouse, your mom, or your best friend has a background in journalism or teaching English, they aren’t qualified to be your editor. When it comes to editing, working with a professional is a must. I found my first editor through my first publisher, and my current editor through a writer’s association. Be sure to find someone you feel comfortable working with, and, most importantly, check your ego at the door. My editor and I have a great relationship. She fixes the problems without changing my voice. As an added bonus, she also makes snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.

The proofreader

The next team member is the proofreader. Proofreading is sometimes referred to as the second edit, as the proofreader goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, may have missed. Typically, these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark. If your spouse, or you mom, or your best friend has a good eye they can probably do your proofreading. I would, however, advise against having your beta reader do your proofreading. For this job you really do need a fresh pair of eyes, and again, your publisher, or writing group, may be able to refer a proofreader.

Other team members

Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers, illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or have had some professional training, I would leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines which take many years of formal training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you book look amateurish as well. Also be cautious about using stock images, especially for your cover. You won’t have exclusive rights, which means another author can come along and use the same image for their cover.

And finally

The last member of your team is your publisher. You have some options here, and you may wish to read, The Three Options for Book Publishing, as it discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you, the author, to determine which would be the best for you.

Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. Your editor is the most important member of your team. He or she is the one person you simply cannot work without.

Gayle Martin

Think You Don’t Need an Editor? Part 3

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

In my first article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part One, I described what a book editor does. In my second article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part Two, I talked about who would be the most qualified to edit your book. In this final article of the series, I’m going to discuss what readers expect when they buy your book.

Readers really do notice

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. He or she has paid good money for your book. He or she used to reading well written and edited books and expects your book to be well written and edited too.

It’s also a given that not everyone will like your book. The subject matter may not be of interest to the reader, or the reader may not agree with your point of view. As writers we expect to have a small percentage of readers return our books and ask for refunds. It’s part of the business of writing and publishing books. However, the last thing any writer wants or needs is for a reader to reject the book because it was poorly written or edited. 

Don’t let the joke be at your expense

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but because we can’t view our work objectively we oftentimes miss our gaffes. The list below came from one of my writing forums, and it’s typical of the mistakes we all make. I’ve paraphrased it to protect the guilty. 

  • A character gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The lead character is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene a character is having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After the tryst is over he or she will need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. (What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Like Vincent Price did in the movie Wax Museum? I’d much prefer that he gather her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? They all, allegedly, were found in self-published books. And while it may be funny to us, it’s certainly not as funny to the authors who wrote them. These are just a few of the mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

So you still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you need find yourself a good editor.

Gayle Martin

Don’t Do the Project

 
if you can’t pay your people

It’s one of my all time biggest irks. Seeing so-called job listings for creative services, from people working on other creative projects, with such caveats as, “We can’t afford to pay at the present time,” or, “No pay but we’ll provide food.” Then there’s my all time favorite. “We can’t afford to pay you but we’ll give you free exposure.”

Wow. Some things make me so angry it’s hard to find the right words.

I get it. We all have dreams. Whether it’s writing and publishing a book, producing a film or recording a CD, we all need professionals to get the project off the ground. But here’s the rub. These professionals spent years learning their craft. And, depending on the project, they may have to use their own equipment as well. So makes you think you’re entitled to get it for free? Think about it. Your doctor doesn’t work for free. Your mechanic doesn’t work it for free. So what makes you think your editor should work for free? 

We don’t have the money because we’re just getting started.

That’s the same lame, tired, worn out and overused excuse that everyone uses whenever they want something for free. “We’re just getting started so don’t have the money.” Well, too bad, because in the real world people expect, and deserve, to be paid for their time and labor.

It’s a business, so treat it like a business.

Any kind of creative business venture, whether it’s writing and publishing a book, making an independent film, or recording a music CD, is a business venture. Any business venture, whether it’s creative or not, requires a certain amount of capital upfront. Fortunately, there are places where you can get the money. If you’ve ever registered a business name then you know your mailbox will soon be filled with all kinds of offers for business loans. Here’s an idea. Apply for them. Even if you can only qualify for a small amount, it may be enough for you to pay your people.

Same goes for grants. There are all kinds of grants out there for creative projects. Apply for them. Yes, it can be time consuming, but you just might get the funding you need to get your project off the ground. Another option is crowdfunding through Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or other crowdfunding platforms.

If all the above fails, then do it the way our parents and grandparents did it. Put a little money aside from each paycheck until you save up enough to pay for the services you need. Sure, it’ll take some time, and in the interim it won’t hurt to go out and start promoting your project. Who knows? You may get lucky and find yourself a sponsor.

The bottom line

Unless you’re a 501(C) 3 nonprofit, and the people providing their services can provide them as a tax deductible donation, then you frankly have no business asking a professional to provide you a service free of charge just because you want it. Not only is this demeaning to the service provider, it’s also insulting. If you can’t afford to pay your people then you can’t afford to do the project. Period.

Gayle Martin

The Three Options for Book Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This certainly is the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It’s up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I had to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, it was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’ve included it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.

Gayle Martin

Good Oak Press, LLC

So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part Two

© Can Stock Photo/ swellphotography

In my previous article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part One, I described what an editor does, and how he or she goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to become a successful book. In this article, I’ll be discussing who you should hire to edit your manuscript.

I understand money is an issue for many of you. However, unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who lands a deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll undoubtedly be investing your own money into producing your book. A professional editor will typically charge one to two cents per word. This means an 80,000 word manuscript may cost about $800 to $1600 to edit.

Why working with a professional editor matters

I know. It’s a lot of money, and many of you are working with small budgets. Therefore, you may be tempted to take some shortcuts. My advice? Don’t do it! Asking your friends, your cousin, your spouse or your mom to edit your manuscript may seem like a good alternative. However, they would have to have experience in journalism, teaching English, or other professional writing experience in order to be qualified for the job.

Now, let’s say you have a friend or family member with one or more of these qualifications. Does this mean you can ask them to edit your manuscript?  Well, maybe. However, you need to be aware of another caveat. As I stated in my earlier article, your editor needs to be objective. Your mom may be a retired English teacher, but can she really be objective? If your mom is anything like my mother was, she may be overly critical. If so, can you handle it? After all, it’s one thing if a stranger is overly critical of your work. You won’t be spending Thanksgiving with him or her, and if you feel your working relationship is too toxic you can replace them with another editor. But if your mom is also your editor, it can get really awkward. Ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself if working with a friend or family member would be a good option or not.

Where to  find a professional editor

I found my first editor through the small press publisher I was working with at the time. She was an absolute joy to work with, but then she decided to change careers. I found my next, and current editor, through a local writers association we both happened to belong to at the time. If you know any other authors you can ask them for a referral. Online author’s forums are another good place. Simply post the question.

And finally

Just as authors specialize in writing nonfiction or fiction, editors will also specialize in what kinds of manuscripts they edit. So if your manuscript is science fiction or fantasy, be sure to find an editor who has experience in editing science fiction and fantasy.

Writing a successful book takes time and money. If you want your book to have four and five star reader reviews, then you’ll need hire a professional book editor. Nothing will end your writing career faster than a poorly-edited book with bad reviews.

Gayle Martin

One of the Pitfalls of Social Media

 
© CanStockPhoto/ShutterM

As authors we’ve all been told that social media is an essential marketing tool, and it truly is. I’ve made fans and sold books on social media. However, social media can also be a double-edged sword. Therefore, it must be treated with respect. Let me give you an example of something that happened to me a few years ago.

After posting a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, I started engaging with another of her friends on the same thread. We were talking about jazz music, something we both enjoyed. During our online conversation she mentioned that she was a book editor. At the time I was publishing books for other authors, so I told her I was a publisher. I then asked her to please send me a friendship request so I could include her on my referral list. She was more than happy to oblige. 

As it turned out, she posted frequently Facebook. However, I found her content troubling. She ranted about her hatred of children, her dislike of men, and her belief that interpersonal relationships were a complete waste of time. She also posted about her hatred of churches and of people of faith. Anyone who disagreed was told to “go f— themselves.” No matter how respectful they were, they got the same hateful, vulgar, response.

I soon realized that I could NEVER refer this woman to any of my authors. If she was that mean spirited and disrespectful on Facebook, I could only imagine how badly she would have treated them. So, instead of sending her referrals, I blocked her.

The point I’m making is to use caution when posting on social media. Mean spirited and hateful posts really can come back and bite you. 

Gayle Martin

Why Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin
It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover it has somehow vanished off my hard drive.
Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re black magic, although I sometimes wonder if there could be some truth to this. Both times it happened was after I’d saved the files and shut down my computer properly. Obviously, files can be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage.
What is off-site storage?

Off-site storage, sometimes called the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server. So, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, which is a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off-site storage company will encrypt your files. 

My personal choice

I use Carbonite, but there are other offsite backup services out there. Carbonite costs me a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It runs in the background and it automatically backs up my files. I never have to stop and do a backup. On those rare occasions when I’ve had to use it, I found it very easy. The first time was to recover missing a Word file. I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an InDesign file that mysteriously vanished. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact.

But I back my stuff up on an external hard drive

Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files up on an external hard drive or a flash drive. Okay. So, what happens if you accidentally drop your external drive, or if you lose your flash drive? What happens if, Heaven forbid, your home is burglarized? Or if there’s a natural disaster? It happens. In such a scenario your external drive may be lost as well. You can replace your computer, but the data will be gone forever, unless you have an off site backup.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end, not once, but twice. I’m now a customer for life.

Gayle Martin