Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Indie Publishing

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

On Wednesday, we talked about all the types of publishing paths and how the new paradigm is becoming increasingly flexible and author-friendly. There is no “right path” only a path that is right for you, which we will talk about in a moment.

To keep up with all the changes in The Digital Age, we created WANACon, which is a virtual conference and as close to the real thing one can get without a holo-deck. No travel, no hotel, from home, and all recordings are included so you can fit a writing conference to your schedule no matter where in the world you happen to live. Also you can listen to anything you miss or might need to revisit. Talk to agents, editors and professionals without ever stepping outside.

Over 20 presentations on craft, social media, platform-building, web design, cover design, and agents…delivered straight to YOU. No matter which publishing path you choose, WANACon has you covered—Traditional, Indie and Self-Publishing. Our Early Bird Special lasts through January 31st. Use the code EarlyBird for $30 off the $149. Sign up here.

Since WANA embraces publishing as a whole, we have USA Today best-selling authors, best-selling Indies and Self-Pubs. As I mentioned, WANACon has even recruited literary agents and editors to present and take pitches. We want the perfect fit for you.

Today, one of our presenters, PDMI Publishing is here to talk about the advantages of Indie Publishing and what to look for before you sign any contract (whether it is with them or another Indie Press).

I know PDMI is committed to writers. They’ve been very good to me and extremely supportive even though I’m not one of their authors and they make no money being kind to me. Even WANACon is almost 100% volunteer. It’s how we can keep the price affordable. Yet, PDMI is sending in an entire team to educate authors.

Take it away, Victoria!

****

Most of us go to work to pay the bills; if we get to enjoy our job, that’s a plus. If we’re passionate about what we do, that’s both unusual and remarkable. But should it be?

Many Indie publishers are guided by the idea that, if we’re going to spend so much of our lives working, why shouldn’t it be a pleasant experience? Passion is paramount. From the owner to the newest trainee editor, a good Indie team loves what they do, and they’re committed to the authors in their care.

Indie houses are in the pioneer stages of development, and this sense of being in at the start of things gives their products a fresh edge and encourages imagination. This is what makes dealing with an independent publisher so special for an author.

The question is, how does an author find the right fit?  What can she hope for? What can she demand? At our press we look at three crucial areas of expertise, and we develop teams for each author based on her goals and the expertise required.

Step #1 Editing

This heart-wrenching but critical piece of any professional publication starts before the manuscript is submitted. First, an author needs to make sure – double sure – that her manuscript is in the best possible shape before it’s submitted. Check each press’s submission requirements and follow them closely. Indies are usually understaffed, so an author can lose a chance at getting an ideal fit simply because he/she failed to follow instructions.

Editing, a conversation between the author and her assigned editor, usually occurs at least twice.  Many times the editor is paid from royalties, so he has a vested interest in the book’s success. The author should find a mentor; a guide–someone that allows that special voice to shine but brings polish and professionalism to the text. The process can take 3-4 months to complete.

No editor will make a good team member if he’s continuously harassed about a manuscript.  On the other hand, the author should get an expected timeline for delivery and start checking if a deadline slips by. Find someone who can help you grow something other than gray hairs. 

Step #2 Artwork

Indies also give an author an opportunity to express her work in illustrations and cover art.  The author needs an illustrator that listens to her voice and happens to care what is actually in the book.  However, it’s also important to listen to the pro when it comes to marketability.  Remember, this is a team.

The Indie staff has a vested interest in the success of the book, so use their expertise. Indies might have several illustrators, and sometimes more than one will work on a book. The author should look for the partnership that makes her feel like part of the process, and not like a commodity.  But listen to the artist – you don’t want your book to get lost in the crowd, and a stan-out cover that pops can be critical for success.

Artwork doesn’t stop at the cover or with a few illustrations. Formatting style can be the difference between looking like the book came off a copy machine at the library or looking like a crafted work, designed by someone with a passion for detail. Not all Indies spend a lot of time here. While searching for a team, consider purchasing a published book from the potential press. Does the work look like it can compete in the commercial market, or does it look like it came off a mimeograph machine?

Step #3 Marketing

The last component that our team focuses on is marketing. Kristen is the ninja when it comes to author strategies for marketing author brands and their work. Yet, an author still needs a publisher that is willing to support all that hard work. Indies have very limited resources for adverting, and they tend to use them judiciously, but there are many things that an author should expect as a bare minimum. Again, in this world, it should be a team or the author needs to keep searching. Not all Indies are equal in this most critical step.

The author should expect help to secure several reviews in different venues. There should be an active program to submit manuscripts for awards.  At our press, the editorial department is responsible for selecting the book and the genre. Our authors can enter in more genres if they choose. We also help with special events, conventions, and signings.

Some Indies require their authors to have a webpage, some build them; still others offer training. In our case, we have a close-knit group that supports each other and shares ideas on how to get the book and the author in the public eye.  Sometimes our clubhouse looks like Romper Room, sometimes the War Room; but we have fun and support each other every step of the way.

Writing is a lonely occupation, but for those who connect with one of the growing number of small independent publishers, it can become a bit like joining a family. There is a true sense of coming home and knowing that for all the employees of the firm, your success will be felt as their success. It’s what they come to work for and what makes dealing with them so rewarding.

Who are we?

We are PDMI Publishing, LLC; a place where team is a way of life, not a cliché.  Our Marketing Team, Peter Wells and Daven Anderson, invite you to join the company at the Birmingham Public Library Authors Expo in Birmingham, AL on February 1, 2014.  The Expo runs from 9:00 AM to 3:00PM.  We’ll be taking Kristen with us!  Well, at least we’ll have her latest book, Rise of the Machines, on hand.  On February 2, some of our authors will be guests at 2nd & Charles in Hoover, AL for a book signing event from 1:00 to 3:00. You can also catch us at WANACon 2014!

Wherever you go, whatever you do with your career, stay true to yourself as your manuscript finds its way to market. Find a partner that helps you mold your thoughts into a professional and marketable piece of work. Here at PDMI, we’re happy to help you discover what path is best for you; this is where we “sculpt personal voices and visions into print.”

***

Thank you so much for your time. As a writer who was once Indie, I can attest these are all areas we must examine thoroughly before making any final decisions. It’s a lot of work writing books and building a platform. A publisher—ANY publisher—should make life easier. No press is perfect, but publishers can strive to always improve and innovate. My experience with Indie was very positive. I know there are many wonderful committed teams out there who love writers and love books.

What are your thoughts? The PDMI Team will be around to answer any questions and I look forward to seeing y’all at WANACon!

I LOVE hearing from you! Comments for guests get double points.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

I promised yesterday, I’d offer up some predictions for publishing in 2014. I don’t know if these are “predictions” or “suggestions” but I am, at heart, an eternal optimist. As I’ve said many, many times, this is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer. It’s a Golden Age of Publishing if we’re willing to embrace the new. Yes, there are challenges. I might be an optimist, but I’m not a moron (okay, that time I accidentally drove to Missouri doesn’t count).

There are new perils ahead, ones we won’t know about until we step both feet in them. In ways, writers are The Lewis and Clark Expedition Literary Edition unfolding in 0s and 1s. This part of why I implored yesterday for writers to be involved in their social media communities. This new paradigm is awesome, but predators abound.

Sadly, there will be more wanna-be publishers, more bad books, more phony reviews, more bullying, more competition, and discoverability will only get tougher…exponentially. But, the flip-side is that writers are making more money, novelists can finally make a living, moth-balled novels are seeing new life and creating new fans, and unique and creative genres are being born. Additionally, forms of writing nearly rendered extinct (poetry, novellas, etc.) have been given new life and authors have a lot more choices and control. We trade one set of problems for new advantages (and…yes…new troubles).

Like the dot-com burst of the 90s, this paradigm will eventually find its way. New gatekeepers will emerge and the market will stabilize…until the next revolution. But until that time…

First, Consolidation is King

Back in The Olden Olden Days, humans went to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread, the smithy for nails, and the tailor for clothes. Then Super Walmart was invented (okay grocery stores then supermarkets might have “paved the way” *rolls eyes*). As humans became more pressed for time, consolidation became vital for competitive edge. Now, we don’t have to trek to the liquor store for the New Year’s Eve champagne when we can simply pick it up at the supermarket with the very last fattening food we’re eating EVER….

….okay, until February.

Consolidation is everywhere. Gaming systems no longer just play games. Try ordering a movie on your 1986 Atari. Want to post on Facebook or peruse You Tube? A Nintendo 64 probably won’t do the trick. In 1990, if we said, “Wow, I need to take Christmas pictures. Let me get my phone!” Men in white coats would show up uninvited and take us away for a “vacation.”

Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these...
Want to take pictures with your PHONE? Might we suggest one of these…

Gaming consoles (XBox) now stream video, allow us to access movies, Amazon, social media, and even shop. Phones are no longer just phones. They play music, manage bank accounts, surf the web, take pictures and video, and entertain toddlers (um, Angry Birds?). We can even run a business remotely using various applications. Try that on THIS.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Robert Huffstutter.

Aside from calling people and generating a seething hatred for those unfortunate souls with too many 0s in their phone numbers? THIS bad boy (above) was good for calling people and letting them call US…and maybe braining a burglar or dazing a Florida cockroach long enough to shoot it with a GUN.

These days, more and more people rely on smart phones and tablets for everything. 

Why do I mention this? Because the future of physical bookstores relies on partnering with other types of retailers. Um, consolidation?

The closest Barnes & Noble to me is in the heart of the BUSIEST FREAKING MALL in DFW, Texas. I am simply not that motivated. What if indie bookstores or Barnes & Noble took the path of Starbucks? Tuck that sucker (a mini-version) in a Target, supermarket or a Costco. I NEED food. Books? Eh, shop on-line. Stick them TOGETHER and lure me with the SHINY. I am SO THERE!

Much like I can buy wine at my local Krogers, why can’t I have a choice of more than a handful of books on one aisle? Make life easier. Gas is expensive and I don’t OWN CLONING TECHNOLOGY, BUT MY LAUNDRY DOES.

*left eye twitches*

This dovetails into my first prediction.

Prediction #1—Kiosks and Microstores Will Gain Traction

Blockbuster is dead. Alas, Red Box remains.

The trade paperback is fairly standard, so digital kiosks are a great alternative. Make the Espresso technology a lot like Red Box. A touch-screen panel to peruse recommended books then pay for either a) a download or b) a rental (limited e-book that expires—integrating the library into this business plan) or c) a printed book (with a coupon for 15% off a latte or grocery purchase over $50, of course).

A “rental”? Yup. Wouldn’t that be great for those books we were forced assigned to read in high school and college? And, if we “rent” the book, this can count towards the purchase of the book if we do want to actually keep and reread Moby Dick. Win-win.

If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?
If Best Buy will do this, why not B&N?

Microstore? YES.

Think of the small stores in airports. I’d much rather have a small store with an educated and well-read staff to help guide what to read than to throw chance to the wind on-line. Microstores can still stock the most popular paperbacks/hardbacks/collections, but then they can guide consumers what to load on their new devices (and maybe even help) or print on the Espresso machine.

The largest consumer group is the Baby Boomers. An educated bookseller could not only guide what to read, but also demonstrate how to upload books to the new device. Maybe even load some freebies for great customer service? *wink, wink*

These booksellers can act as gatekeepers to help modern consumers avoid the digital slush pile. Indies, self-pub and traditional would be on a level playing field. Good books would be recommended by staff members who READ and who are PASSIONATE about BOOKS. Pay the book salespeople a flat commission. Who cares if they recommend James Patterson or Joe Schmoe Patterson? They sold a book and if they want customers to return and offer more commission? They’ll probably want to recommend good books.

Prediction #2—Booksellers Cultivate a Culture of Reviewers

Microstores can also encourage reviews in a way authors can’t. I’d love to offer sweet prizes for reviewing my book, but it’s just too…what’s the term? Creepy. Sure, I want reviews as much as the next author, but it’s a fine line that can get writers in ethical trouble. A microstore wouldn’t have this issue. They could actually cultivate a culture of reviewers.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Micro Indie Booksellers could offer incentives to the best reviewers who write ACTUAL reviews (no matter what book it happens to be, thus removing problem of favoritism). If people act like trolls or play sock puppet? Doesn’t count. The more the customers review, the better (educated) reviews they post? The more bonuses they receive. Booksellers can reward consumers for being active and ethical citizens of the reading culture.

This helps the microstore, the bigger retail outlet (who rents space and partners with discounts), the consumer struggling to save time and who needs guidance, and it helps authors get REAL reviews. Not this, pay us to read your stuff and say something nice nonsense. It’s a positive way to combat bullying and encourage thoughtful, genuine reviews.

Prediction #3—The Boutique Boom

We already touched on this when we discussed micro-trends, but part of why Big Publishing is hemorrhaging is because small is the new big (thanks, Seth Godin). Big Publishing makes most of its profits off the mega-trend, but mega-trends are dying. Amazon has grown exponentially because it harnesses the momentum of millions of micro-trends. Authors don’t have to reach millions of people to make a good profit/living (if one takes away the needless waste of the old paradigm). Publishers don’t either ;).

Prediction #4—Strong Indie Houses Will Replace Big Publishing

Granted, we live in a time when everyone can be an author and everyone can be a publisher, but this business is tough. It requires capital, business savvy, organization, innovation and raw tenacity. This means a lot of indie publishers won’t last, and the ones that do will add increasing value. Because these new publishers are innovative, lean, offer higher royalties, and aren’t married to massive Manhattan overhead and paper, they’ll eventually replace NY publishing (and we hope they’ll learn from The Big Six’s mistakes).

When one considers the current business trajectory? Bookstores, libraries and foreign markets are becoming increasingly friendly to indies. They have to in order to survive. Loyalty to NY only goes so far when one is facing extinction. What will NY do when indies can do everything they can and offer lower prices to consumers and higher pay for authors?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler
Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Robert Ellsworth Tyler

Prediction #5—AP Reviewers Will Be Forced to Take ALL Authors Seriously or Perish

As is stands, it’s almost impossible for a self-published author to score an AP (Associated Press) review. Yet, when we’re now in a time when non-traditional authors are matching or outselling traditional authors? How long can the AP remain silent about the books people are reading? If they don’t dive in? Book bloggers will happily replace them, and maybe they should. The press was never meant to solely be a mouthpiece for conglomerates.

Prediction #6—Social Norms Will Trump Market Norms

Freebies, give-aways, contests, algorithms, coupons, are fine, but alone? Invisible. Writers must be engaged personally and create community or it’s Career Roulette. We (consumers) don’t want any more deluge of free stuff. We are drowning in FREE. We don’t want more newsletters crapping up our In-Box. We don’t want link spam.

We want connection.

The 18th-20th century world was actually a historical anomaly. The factory model, the TV-Industrial Complex, the World of Big Business and Bigger Gatekeepers is GONE. We’ve returned to our human roots. We want to laugh, talk, klatsche, and we gravitate to who we know and like. We humans are returning to our tribal roots.

Algorithms will be harder to manipulate, reviews tougher to fake, and promotions will grow increasingly invisible, especially as new emerging markets add even more competition to the din.

Prediction #7—Age of the Artist

Multimedia is the future. Books eventually have to be more than books (much like phones became more than phones). Consumers will gravitate to e-books with sound, music, images, quick reference, video, similar reading suggestions, etc. Artists working together will thrive. E-books can create communities where fans can become friends, talk, argue, and hang out.

Musicians? Make friends with writers and offer short music selections. Photographers and graphic artists? Writers need cover art and internal images. Videographers? Writers need book trailers that don’t suck. Also, short video clips can enhance the reading experience. Heck, team up and put together music videos for a book. Get creative!

We are ARTISTS. This means we cannot be automated or replaced by robots. ENJOY!

No, I am not saying paper will go away. It won’t. But when I bought an IPad for business, it was soon abducted by a two-and-a-half-year-old and I haven’t seen it since. The Spawn reads. A LOT. But he reads off the IPad, because he loves interacting.

Prediction #8—A New Breed of Reader

I mention the IPad, then quickly hear the cry of the, “But you’ll damage their BRAINS” crowd. Uh huh. Just like those record players paired with books damaged me when I was four. The interactive experience has always been there. In cave times, it was around a fire listening to a storyteller/bard. Later, book clubs, records, tapes, blah, blah, blah. Interactivity has always been there, only today, it’s been heightened to new levels.

And when I was that nerdy teen reading a paper book ALONE, what I would have given for a crowd of likeminded teens all over the world who shared my love for Dragonlance books and my passion for The Pawn of Prophesy. I love how detractors decry that technology makes people less able to socialize, because I was SO SOCIAL with my stack of paper books hiding in a corner of the lunchroom praying no one would notice me.

The new paradigm has finally accomplished what Big Publishing couldn’t. It’s made reading COOL and this trend will continue to grow.

Prediction #9—Barnes & Noble Needs a Sugar Daddy Bail-Out

Barnes & Noble has been on the downward spiral for a while. What I find funny is people feel sorry for them. Remember the 90s when they all-but-demolished the indie bookstore in Darwinian fashion? Seems like karma is coming back to bite, Blockbuster-Style. B&N is facing serious comeuppance now that the bully has met with someone capable of bloodying their nose. If they do survive, they’ll have to marry well. My bet is on two major suitors.

Suitor #1? Microsoft. And I am not alone in this assessment. Microsoft operating systems still dominate tablets, personal computers, and smart phones, so the Nook can be easily integrated into the operating systems of all Microsoft devices. Microsoft would take over the e-books and B&N would survive. Yes, Microsoft has dated dabbled, but never offered a ring.

Or perhaps, one day we will tell our grandchildren of grand two-story buildings with coffee shops inside and “business hours.”

In my day we had to get in a car and drive and find PARKING and look on actual SHELVES for a book *waves cane*.

Suitor #2? GOOGLE.

Apple’s relentless innovation has slowed since the death of Steve Jobs, and Android is taking them on. The Google-Android partnership has Apple on its toes in regards to automobile iOS systems. It’s the Siri-Google Smackdown! While Apple is fighting on that front, Microsoft could take a chunk out of iBooks with a B&N bailout (and give Amazon some competition at the same time).

Or, if we want to go for the most interesting Bailout-Marriage, why not Google Books? A SEARCH ENGINE marrying a BOOKSTORE? If Google can partner with Android, B&N isn’t exactly as wild of a partnership as it might sound. If Google-Android does win the Computerized Car Business, cars are now big into downloading entertainment. AUTOTAINMENT. Want to listen to an audio book on the commute? Want to synch your reading device while stuck in traffic or on a long road trip (not while driving, please)? Want to download a new book for the kids fighting in the back seat?

Nooble…

Um, Goo-Barnes…

Um…Boogle….

NOBLE GOOGLE is HERE!

Hmm, Noble Google. Kinda catchy :D. Though Nooble is cute.

Prediction #10—Agents Will Have to Innovate, Too

Agents. Yeah. I recall the days when conferences would pay big bucks for agents to attend…and then the agents refused to talk to authors. I can personally attest to enduring the brunt of daring to talk to those who’d come down from Mt. Olympus NYC to talk to me, a lowly mortal…writer. *shivers* They sneered that we made a typo in a query, yet couldn’t be bothered to even spell our names correctly in a rejection letter (been there). Agents tweeted lines out of queries as jokes. They laughed and mocked writers on-line worse than a den of high school Mean Girls, but now?

Wait.

Writers still have a job.

REVELATION! Agents need writers. Whouda’ thunk? Now, make no mistake, I think agents are awesome. We are wise to have a good agent. Many agents are tireless champions who should be paid better, but the old paradigm birthed a lot of prima donnas who forgot who paid their wages.

Some of the BEST people I know are agents. Laurie McLean (of Forward Literary) is not only a FABULOUS agent, but a marvelous human being and my friend. BUT, Laurie is there for WRITERS. She’s a warrior for good writers and great books, and there are many agents like her. In the new paradigm? Agents like these will thrive and they SHOULD.

Authors need allies and agents can help even the self-pubbed or indie author. Laurie is extremely forward-thinking and always has been. When I first taught social media in 2008? She was the only agent out of TEN who attended. She’s AMAZING at planning author careers. She can tell you when to self-pub (if it’s right for you/your work), then guide you to the best indie or traditional house (and deal) and then take your work as far as it can and should go.

She’s always on the lookout for the perfect path for each writer and every work (Red Sofa Literary, established by Dawn Frederick, is another fab choice). These folks do what agents should do! Agents like Laurie, Dawn and their teams will thrive and the others? Well, let’s hope they can learn and innovate ;).

What are your thoughts? Do my predictions make you happy or break out in hives? What do YOU see in the future? HOW do you do it? Because I had to drink three packs of Red Bull to see the future. What would you LIKE to see coming down the pipeline?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Ah, a New Year is before us. What is the future of publishing? What lies ahead for writers? Will Snooki have another baby? After consulting my team of advisors, those being the voices in my head, I’ll toss my predictions in the ring tomorrow. Granted, much of what I predicted last year has come to pass. A lot of it, I think still will happen but I have a history of being so far ahead of the game, people think I’m bonkers (ok, I am).

Note to Self: Perhaps wearing tinfoil hat impairs professional credibility.

Before I give any predictions for 2014, I figured it might be fun to take a quick look at the past nine years before we finish out my decade of Publishing Prognostication and Social Media Soothsaying. More fun than cleaning the house, right?

I’ve been very blessed to be right more times than I was wrong. I’d love to claim superpowers, but most of this is just doing what writers do—paying attention, using empathy, extending logic. Also, we are wise to seek out people smarter than we are. I know I do. I listened to bloggers, other experts, commenters and even self-professed non-readers, and they should have a lion’s share of credit.

This record of predictions is not an OOH, TOLD YOU SO! LOOK HOW AWSOME I AM! *OUCH I got a cramp patting myself on the back!* as much as it’s a poignant illustration how being present and engaged can give all of us tremendous advantages. When we try to automate the future or run our careers by remote, we lose predictive powers and become reactive instead of proactive. Our digital community is very wise if we are humble enough to participate, ask questions and then listen when they answer.

Thus, this 9-year list is to demonstrate that often, when we dare to be different, we will be criticized (often brutally), but our hearts, intuition and community can be pretty accurate guides if we stay the course ;)…

Nine-Year Record of Predictions:

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.05.40 AM
Big Six? Magic Eight Ball Says…

From 2004-2007, I predicted there would be a time when novelists could use social media to build a platform before the first book was even finished, and that this platform would eventually be a viable bargaining tool with publishers.

NUTSO. Burn her! She’s a witch!

I ignored the agents and writers who laughed at me and kept plodding away on Gather, then later MySpace and Facebook. I began using Twitter in 2008 because I felt this was a platform that would eventually change the way the world interacted. I hung out with all 20 other members on Twitter and waited, biding my time.

I also predicted that the same Digital Tsunami that leveled Tower Records would take out Kodak and then The Big Six.

Madness!

In 2008, I predicted that there would soon be a time that an author without a sound social media platform would be at a major professional disadvantage. Writers of The Digital Age had to have BOTH good books AND a sound platform. Good books alone were NOT ENOUGH.

What is she SMOKING?

If you peruse my archives, you will see many “sweet and thoughtful” comments by agents and authors regarding how I was an imbecile and writers only needed to write a good book. I was regularly informed I possessed the intellect of a brain-damaged monkey with a Valium addiction. Ouch. Agents (and writers) blogged left and right about staying off social media and focusing only on writing good books. Many indie author gurus preached the same.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.
I just said we needed both good books and social media.

By 2011, agents stopped leaving hate comments on my blog, likely because they were too busy googling authors to see if they had a viable social platform. Major NYC agencies began refusing queries if a fiction author couldn’t demonstrate he/she had a sound platform. Today? Most have changed their tune and come to accept that Digital Age Authors have to be balanced to succeed—good books, good business, authentic social media.

In 2009, I encouraged The Big Six to embrace e-books, because that year some of the first affordable and user-friendly devices hit the market and I really wanted the Big Six to enjoy a Golden Era again. Sure theses gadgets were still in the Early Adopter part of the bell curve, but I noticed the price of smart phones, tablets, e-readers and data packages was steadily dropping at roughly the same time. To me, this was a clear indication that e-books would eventually edge over into the fat part of the bell curve and become entrenched. Smart phones and tablets would soon be mainstream and people would be searching for content and entertainment.

Actual Agent Quote: E-Books will be statistically meaningless. Like everyone thought audio books would end paper, e-books are a fluke and people will always want paper books.

*head desk*

I suppose this is one of the reasons why we no longer have a Big Six. *shrugs*

By 2010, I predicted that authors couldn’t rely on price alone. Cheap books would only hold power so long before it devolved into a race to the bottom of who could give away the most stuff for nothing. The “shiny” of .99 books and FREE! would dull once everyone was doing it. Also, consumers would get frustrated downloading books rife with errors, formatting issues and bad writing.

Hmmm, looks legit.
Hmmm, looks legit.

I postulated that eventually readers would pay more for something they might actually read. I advised writers to use .99 and FREE! promotions only of those tactics served a long-term advantage. For instance, offer the first book of a series for free or .99 to encourage sales.

Still do.

Amazon permitted this deluge of cheap books because it was putting the hurt on The Big Six. I  theorized that once Amazon no longer considered Big Publishing a threat, it would reign in the freebies and the initial advantages offered to authors willing to hand away books. From 2012 to 2013, I noted the price of e-books highlighted on Amazon rise from .99-$2.99 to roughly $4.99 to $6.99, demonstrating Amazon’s strategy was paying off (this was right about the same time This Big Six became The Less-Big 5 and teetered on becoming The Spiffy Four). This was also when authors started seeing changes in how FREE sales were being ranked/weighted by Amazon.

In 2011, recommended that major publishers rethink pricing for the e-book. Charging the same price for an e-book as a hardback was bad business that would come back to bite them and only fuel the indie momentum they were trying to stanch. Agency pricing would put them in the crosshairs of the DOJ (which it did). Also, this ridiculous pricing was bound to drive the mid-list authors into abandoning the traditional ship and becoming indies.

Though I’d love to claim Nostradamus-like-powers, this isn’t rocket science. A best-selling author can only get so many ticked off one-star reviews for an overpriced $24 e-book before rethinking if the publisher is really making sound business decisions for that author’s present and future career.

This same year, I also railed against automation (and, frankly, always have). I knew that, as more regular people started using Twitter, they’d soon be able to spot bots and would come to resent and ignore them. I warned writers against these “time-saving” devices. My sentiment? It doesn’t take but a few moments to hop on social media and type a sentence.

We are WRITERS. 

I caught a LOT of heat over my attitude regarding automation and multiple accounts.

Then, The Boston Marathon Bombing tragically demonstrated the point I’d been trying to make for almost five years. Even well-crafted pre-programmed tweets are still SPAM. Our world changes on a dime and instantly. Many authors ended up in hot water because, “Buy my book, now FREE!” posted in the midst of a tragedy. And the time spent undoing the damage to the author brand probably exceeded that time “saved” by automating tweets.

YUM.
YUM….or not.

In 2011 and 2012, I warned against algorithmic alchemy. Amazon, Google, etc. knows when someone is abusing algorithms for any advantage. This is why they employ teams of computer experts who are tasked with changing algorithms any time certain users start gaining a manipulative advantage. Juking numbers only works short-term. There are better and longer-lasting uses of our time. Amazon now limits tags and penalizes abusers.

In 2013 I predicted a flood of mid-list authors would cut loyalty with NY and choose indie or hybrid paths. This is actually becoming more and more standard practice over the past year. CJ Lyons is one of many traditional authors who’s decided to add indie publishing into her career plan. When I spoke at Thrillerfest in NYC this past July, the CEO of AMAZON Publishing was the keynote. The hard line dividing writers finally began to crumble this past year.

I will post my predictions for 2014 tomorrow, but what I hope you take away from today’s post is:

If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.

The truly successful are never too smart or too talented or too important to listen to others. 

Heat can burn us or forge us. If we dare to go against the majority, expect pushback. Often it’s a sign we’re onto something ;).

Never fear being wrong. It’s the only way to figure out what’s right.

We really can’t predict the future, only create it. So let’s create something AMAZING!

WE ARE NOT ALONE!

What are your thoughts? Have you been ridiculed but kept pressing? What are some mistakes you made, but what did you learn? I know I’ve made plenty and they taught me way more than success. What were some trends you spotted and maybe people thought you were nuts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!

Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.
Okay, what now? (Image vis Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi).

Tomorrow I leave for NYC to speak at CraftFest then attend Thrillerfest. This conference (for me) is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I’ve always held a deep love for NY (and still do). This is one of the challenges I’ve faced when it comes to being a social media expert for authors.

My goal is to connect each author with the publishing path that is best for that artist. 

In the meantime, I also strive to help NY innovate. Amazon is great, but healthy competition is best for all of us in the end. Monopolies are only good for said owner of the monopoly. As I said in Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World, “NY brings balance to The Force.” Any help I can offer to help them raise their game? I’m here.

Thriving in the Digital Age

One of my all-time favorite movies is Heartbreak RidgeIt’s a movie about a drill instructor who has to take command of a spoiled  recon platoon with a bad attitude. Part of how Gunny Highway whips these bad boys into shape is by constantly changing the rules so they have to learn to be predictive, to think three steps ahead and anticipate changes.

The best line in the movie?

Improvise, adapt and overcome! ~Gunny Highway

Know The Territory

My mission is to give you guys a plan that is within context of the shifting paradigm. One of the keys to being successful is to understand the market territory and how best we fit into that territory so we can accomplish our objectives. It’s how we improvise and adapt (then overcome).

For instance, the ancient Greeks ruled the seas. The Romans? They were better fighting on land. When Greeks knew they needed to resolve a conflict or retake a territory, they worked very hard to bring the battle onto the water. Mainly because they ROCKED on water…and also it was far harder to have a party boat on land :D.

The Internet has a wealth of information to help us understand where we fit. The smart writer gets educated and knows where she maneuvers best. I hope NYC will grow more comfortable innovating for the Digital World because that’s where a lot of the “battle” is now taking place. Can they adopt techniques that can help them maneuver this new territory with the same ease?

One of the reasons Rome remained an EMPIRE for a few thousand years is they learned to assimilate the tactics and tools of their adversaries. When the Spanish kicked their tails with the Gladuis Hispaniensis (the Gladius)? The Romans became MASTERS at forging and wielding that sword. They didn’t keep running into battle with the same sword that lost them the battle in the first place, because “Well, we have always used that sword.”

They adapted and changed to accommodate new and superior technology to gain the advantage. Writers and publishers who can learn and grow and harness new technologies are the ones who will dominate the field.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Not everyone has the ability to be an entrepreneur. Self-publishing and indie publishing are not a panacea. Are you ready to learn to be a publisher? Are you willing to learn the business side of the business? Are you okay with failing? A lot?

I wish I could tell you I’ve never made any bone-headed decisions, but I have. More than I care to admit, in fact. But, I am grateful I did some stuff wrong because failure is a great teacher. Failing SUCKS, but it will teach you to improvise and adapt.

No matter which path you choose, failure will be there. That’s okay. Learn from it. Harness it. Grow stronger. OVERCOME.

It’s a Great Time to Be a Writer

This is the beauty of the new paradigm. We now have choices. Some of you are natural entrepreneurs. Every time I get around RWA people I feel like a babe who knows NOTHING. So many of their authors not only have an unparalleled work ethic, but the sheer business-savvy they possess leaves me speechless.

….and I’m Kristen Lamb. NOT an easy feat :D.

Yes, I self-published. It was the best option for my personality and content. Yet? My dear friend Susan Spann negotiated a three-book traditional deal for her (Shinobi Mystery Series) Claws of the Cat. Why?

First, her books are awesome, but secondly, she has a law practice. She didn’t have the time or energy to do all the stuff a publisher does. For her, traditional was an ideal fit. This goes back to knowing strengths and weaknesses and what terrain we feel we can be strong.

Are you better fighting writing on solid land traditional or out at sea non-traditional? This is why I never offer a One Size Fits All Platform for writers.

WANA supports all types of writers and all types of publishing. The cool thing about books? They are not so cost-prohibitive that people won’t buy more than ONE. Thus, we really aren’t each other’s competition, and that places us in a unique position to work together to improve the terrain all around.

Traditional publishing brings over a century of gatekeeper experience and the indies are forging ahead and innovating in the digital world. We are wise to look to each other and learn. The traditionals can help us improve the overall quality of our product, but the indies can help us reach more readers faster and better. Indies are great at streamlining and innovating.

The good news is we are living in an amazing time to be writers (and publishers).

What are your thoughts? Do you like that writers finally have a career path? Do you like being an entrepreneur? Have you enjoyed being traditionally published? What do you think we can learn from each other?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 10.53.55 AM
Portrait of Marie Antoinette via Wikimedia Commons

Three days ago, The New York Times published a rather doomsday on-line article written by Scott Turow (current head of the Authors Guild), titled The Slow Death of the American Author . I must admit this is a great title, guaranteed to scare the pants off the best of us. In fact, I received so many frightened e-mails from writers who wanted me to address this article, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer my analysis of Turow’s assertions.

Turow is Absolutely Correct

There is a slow death of the American Author…of the Old Paradigm.

What Turow doesn’t appear to grasp is that technology, particularly communication technology exacts sweeping cultural change that cannot be reversed (short of war or global apocalypse). Most modern humans aren’t going to trade in their flatscreens and XBoxes for a “good old-fashioned story told by the fire.”

“Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological. One significant change generates total change.” (Postman, Technopoly, 18)

To Everything There is a Season…

The bard slowly disappeared with the invention of the printing press. Those who were good storytellers had to learn to write them and publish their stories if they hoped to make a living.

Storytellers who wanted to continue standing on corners reciting epic tales (as had been done for centuries) eventually came to the hard realization they’d been replaced by a paper book that could be read by a cozy fire. No more invitations to wealthy homes to tell tales (for pay).

Rich people were too busy reading novels.

If storytellers wanted to eat and pay the bills, they needed to pick up a pen and put it to paper. They had to change the way they’d always done business if they wanted to succeed survive.

The Death of an Era

The American Author, as Turow understands it, writes books, relies on an agent and publisher, and trusts to earn as many royalties as possible from as many sources as possible. FREE! is anathema and social media is too plebeian…and yes, these types of authors are slowly dying.

What Turow is failing to understand is that the fundamental job expectations of the writer has transformed in the Digital Age. This is one of the largest reasons I encourage authors to engage on social media, to blog and create a platform that regularly interacts with fans (and recruits new ones), and to learn the business of their business.

When we create a community on social media, not only will fans buy books full price but they will also be some of our fiercest watchdogs for piracy. I’ve had many author friends who discovered their pirated work from a fan and, subsequently, were able to take action to have the pirated work removed.

Let Them Eat Cake

But I know authors of the old cloth who rail against technology. I’ve met too many of them. When I mention engaging on social media and talking to regular people, they curl their lips and sneer, “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to write” (actual conversation).

Doesn’t that make you want to hand this person money?

We’re in a tough economy. Money and time are scarce. Yet, there exists this old literary aristocracy who cannot be bothered talking to us lowly proletariat (code for “readers”), because it might “steal time from their art.”

Here’s the thing. If we expect people to support us, give us money and time they don’t have, the very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it. 

Pirate Insurance

In the Digital Age, the best way to generate sales, decrease piracy, and translate FREE! into a sale is to be active on social media and engage. All this costs is some extra time and genuine friendliness. Yet, I find the authors who howl the most about the evils of FREE! and who are the most concerned about being ripped off are the same ones who grouse about  “having to actually talk to people.”

And if I hadn’t encountered this priggish attitude so many times, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it. Yet, this starchy thinking is not unusual among the Old Paradigm Author. They denounce social media, criticize e-books, and wail about the evils of Amazon.

Yet, strangely these authors never seem to question why the Publishing Monarchy hasn’t parted with more of the spoils. In this new age (where e-books cost so little to produce) why are so many of the traditional authors still the ones who are paid the last and the least?

Viva le Roi Vive le Revolution!

We are in a Revolution. In the Old Paradigm, the reality of life as a writer was nasty, brutish and often unfair. A small few enjoyed the fruits of being real writers. There was the small percentage of those whom the Publishing Monarchy granted titles and access to court (literary contracts), while the regular serfs in the field accepted their lot (“aspiring” writers who gave up and returned to the day job).

A handful of the writing majority worked tirelessly in hopes they, too, might earn invitation to join the upper crust of being “published.” Once the writer gained access, he could scrabble up the ranks list for a chance at earning his writing royalty title #1 New York Times Best Selling Author.

And these types of promotions into Publishing Aristocracy happened with enough regularity to keep the dream alive among the masses and prevent all-out revolution. Additionally, without a real invitation from court (a publishing contract), there was no other way to “make it” as a writer. Self-publishing was mocked as a false coat of arms and regarded with general disdain.

It’s a Contract, Not a Panacea

In the Old Paradigm, a publishing contract had the power to get a writer’s foot in the door, but was hardly a magic bullet for success. Only a very small handful of writers earned enough to quit the day job, and most of the wealth was held by a tiny top tier percentage. There was a weak and struggling author middle class, and the rest of us were literary serfs dreaming that one day we’d live like the author on the hill.

I don’t say this with any judgement. Before the Digital Age, there was only one way to make it. The New World had yet to be discovered…

The Winds of Change

Then with the advent of social media, e-books, and other digital tools, suddenly the entrenched power structure could no longer keep tight control of the industry. We writers no longer had to rely on favor granted by the Publishing Aristocracy, because they no longer held sole keys to the kingdom (publishing and distribution).

The Digital Age has created a robust bourgeoise of writers who are a hybrid of artist and innovative, hard-working entrepreneur. This new bourgeoise embrace FREE! and harness it to power future sales. This new breed of author is as creative in business as she is in her novels, and she works the crowds like she’s our near and dear friend (not pouting like a debutante required to do community service).

As Mike Masnik from Tech Crunch states in his blog Author’s Guild’s Scott Turow: The Supreme Court, E-Books, Libraries and Amazon are All Destroying Authors:

If you’re an author earning nothing at all, then you’ve got bigger problems than technology. It probably means you’re mired in obscurity and no one knows who the hell you are.

On top of that, it means you’ve done nothing at all to connect with your fans. Because we’ve seen authors who actively encourage the piracy of their books, but who also work to connect with their fans, and have seen their sales go way up, because those fans want to support the authors.

The new Digital Age Author understands that blogging and tweeting are hard, but they also appreciate that these are the very activities that the amatuer is too lazy to do and what the old aristocracy is too good to do.

The Author of the Digital Age refuses to accept the 93% failure rate of the “good old days” and he boards the rickety boats and sets sail for the New World, knowing that while it is full of danger, blistering work, and uncertainty, there is also vast treasure to be discovered.

The Age of the Author

People are reading more now than ever in human history. They are craving and consuming information at unprecedented rates, and it is an amazing time to be a writer. But the old business model is crumbling. As mentioned in Nathan Bransford’s blog, In the Future, Will Everyone Be a Publisher?, big publishing is atomizing.

The power structure is caving. The parties are no longer as lavish, and the court doesn’t dress nearly as nicely as they did in the publishing heyday. BUT, for the first time,  authors (especially fiction authors) are making a really good living doing what they love—WRITING.

While Turow wails that authors are dying, he seems to be forgetting about Barry Eisler who famously turned down a half million dollar deal with his publisher to go on his own. Turow is also apparently unaware of the many successful self-published authors who’ve translated successful e-book sales into favorable print deals with traditional houses. He looks all too unaware of the astonishing success of publishers who’ve passed up the old business model and innovated to keep pace with a new culture.

An Age of Freedom

These days authors no longer have to accept whatever deal NY offers. If the author doesn’t like the terms, she can partner with the emerging digitally savvy publishers who “act more like partners than gatekeepers” (Masnik).

The Bottom Line

It all boils down to this. The world has changed. There is a new paradigm and it’s birthing a very new type of reader who has very different expectations. This, in turn, has altered our job requirements if we hope to be successful.

Yes, it is more work, but the odds of success are far higher. The Old World had 172,000 books published in a year and 160,000 of those sold less than 1,000 copies (per Book Expo of America stats 2006—pre-e-book explosion and social media saturation).

Welcome to the New World of Publishing

The New World, however, is ripe ground for the author-entrepreneur. Fiction authors are now making enough to write full time. Many are making six and seven figures, a pay grade once relegated to only a handful of the upper crust.

BUT, there is a cost.

In this New World there are few existing structures and many of the rules have yet to be written. We are setting foot on wild shores with no blacksmith or stables. No established farms or existing housing. We are responsible for building it. 

The authors of the old model can learn from the passionate and generous indie entrepreneurs. Publishing houses can innovate. IT IS A GREAT TIME TO BE IN PUBLISHING. Yes, we all have new roles and more work, but the good news is…WE ARE NOT ALONE.

To end with a little laugh, some Mel Brooks…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!