Lauren Carr

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E-Book Publishing: It's a Whole New World

Posted on October 3, 2011 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (1)

First, let me say that the whole e-book publishing world is in a constant state of change. It’s new and growing and evolving even as I’m writing this. For that reason, it’s hard to pin down what to advise authors wanting to jump on board, except to say that they should if they can.

While there are hard core fans of print books, there are a growing number of e-book fans.

The main e-book publishers that I use are https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Amazon’s DPT (Digital Publishing Technology); Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble Pub-It.

There is no need to cut out one for the other. Independent Authors can and should publish their books in both formats. Most self-publishing/independent e-book publishers don’t have exclusive contracts. That means the author can also publish with another e-book publisher in order to expand their distribution to e-book fans who own a different type of reader and shop elsewhere.

E-Book Formatting:

This is without a doubt the most intimidating part of e-book publishing. If you’re not computer savvy, it can make you tear your hair out.

To alleviate further confusion, let me explain: When publishing an e-book, your book needs to be in the proper layout (format): no tabs, no fancy fonts, proper line spacing, etc. Then, it needs to be in the proper file format: doc; html; epub; etc.

That’s another reason for writers trying to e-publish tear their hair out. When discussing formatting an e-book, we can be talking about two different things.

Unfortunately, each e-publisher has different layout format requirements and file formats for uploading the files to be converted into e-books so that they can be read on the dozens of different types of readers available.

There are a number of services available that will do the layout formats and file conversion for you, for a fee (my company, Acorn Book Services, included). These companies will format and convert your book and send it to you in the many different file formats required for the various publishers.

Tips to Keep in Mind When E-Publishing

Make Your Book as Good as if You Were Sending it to New York: Just because you can upload your book to Kindle and make it available for sale on Amazon in one day, don’t think you can publish the first draft of your book and sell a million books.

The downside to e-publishing being so easy is that anyone can do it is just that. The e-book market is flooded with bad books, many of them first drafts uploaded by new writers who just woke up one morning and decided to write a book without knowing the first thing about how to write a good one.

If your book is junk, word of mouth will send readers running—away from your book. If you want your book to rise up above the garbage flooding the e-book shelves, it needs to be good, which means no sloppy editing or bad writing.

Get a Cover: People are visual. Even if your book is not in hardcopy that people can hold in their hand, they need to visualize something to associate with your title. Go to Amazon Books and do a search of other books in your genre. You will see that most of their covers are not complicated. If you have artsy friend, get input from them. Be careful not to get a busy cover. Keep in mind that it will need to be thumbnail size when posted in the online bookstores.

Keep It Cheap: You should sell your e-book for less than $4.99. I’ve priced my e-books at $3.99 and they sell very well. Many traditional publishers selling e-books and self publishers that offer e-book formatting bundled with their print packages, I believe, set the price and will set it higher than $4.99. Some traditional publishers will set the e-book for the same price as the print. Here’s one way to look at it: Readers are less hesitant to spend $3.99 on a book for an author they don’t know than $9.99.

Don’t Forget to Spread the Good News when you get good reviews. I mention this because I do it. With all the e-books being released every day, there’s a lot of competition. Even if you have a great book, it’s not going to sell if you don’t make people aware of it.

Make sure Amazon links your e-book with the print version of your book. (They should do this automatically, but if they don’t, let them know by contacting customer service at Author Central.) If you get a good review and the reviewer doesn’t post it on Amazon go to Author Central and post it under Editorial Reviews for your book. (Ask permission from the reviewer first.) You can’t post the whole review, but you can post the highlights of it. Do the same with Barnes and Noble Pub-It, which allows you to post the whole review; and every other place where you have published your book.

As I said at the beginning, e-publishing is in a constant state of change. So much so, that what you have just read may have become outdated since you started this article and we may be talking about hologram publishing next week.

Independent Publishing: Pros & Cons

Posted on September 16, 2011 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)

There are two types of independent publishing:

In the commercial publishing world, independent publishers (also called “indies” or “small presses” are small publishers that publish a limited number of books per year (usually less than 10). Their status may also be determined by an annual sales figure (i.e. less than $50 million, after returns and discounts). Small presses operate independently of any large conglomerates or multi-national corporations, and make up approximately half the market share of the book publishing industry. Often they focus on specific genres and niche markets.

The other definition of independent publishing refers to an increasingly popular form of self-publishing. Rather than working with a vanity or subsidy press, the author incorporates as his or her own company, or small press, and bears the entire cost of publication, sub-contracting all associated services (copy-editing, layout design, cover design, indexing, printing, distribution, etc.). Up front, this can be more expensive and labor-intensive. However, on the plus side, the author has more control and keeps all the rights. On the back end, he or she gets a substantial amount more of the sales proceeds. Increasingly, books published by independent authors are less stigmatized in the industry than those published by vanity or subsidy presses. Possibly, it is because when an author invests not just money, but his or her own time and labor into publishing their book, there is going to be more attention to quality control.

Pros:

• Author has control and say over entire publishing process

• Process from start to book’s release can be accomplished in half the time of commercial publishing

• Author keeps all the rights. Completed books are author’s property, and author keeps all net sales proceeds

• Because every part of the project can be put out to bid, overall cost can be less expensive than vanity or subsidy publishing. The end result can also be a much higher-quality product

• Self-published books done well and/or that sell a large number of copies (5,000 or more in first year) often get picked up for resale by commercial publishers or literary agents

Cons:

• Authors undertake entire cost and labor of publication themselves, including all marketing, distribution, storage, etc.

• Can be more expensive and more labor-intensive in some areas because the author is investing in the project themselves. For example, when I was traditionally published, my publisher paid the designer for my book’s cover art. Now that I’m independent, the responsibility of paying for the cover art is mine.

Examples of Independent Presses: https://www.createspace.com/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">CreateSpace, LuLu *

*These companies can be used either as a self-publisher or as a printer. Authors can do the work themselves and then upload their files onto the company’s website. In this case, they are using the company as a printer. CreateSpace and Lulu also offer self-publishing services for authors either ala carte or as a bundle.

Subsidy Publishing: Pros and Cons

Posted on September 10, 2011 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (2)

I want to apologize for any of you who expected this post last week. My laptop got sick with a virus and I had to re-install my operating system. The weekend spent tending to my sick techno-partner pushed me way behind. So, with no further ado, here is part three of my series about publishing. The pros & cons of subsidy publishing.

Subsidy Publisher: Pros & Cons

A subsidy publisher (aka self-publisher or vanity press) takes payment from an author to print and bind a book, but also contributes a portion of the cost and/or provides adjunct services. Some subsidy publishers may be selective and/or screen submissions before committing to publish. Subsidy publishers generally claim at least some rights, though these may be non-exclusive. When I took my first book out of print with iUniverse several years after signing with them, they informed me that according to our contract, they had the right to hold onto their publication rights for another year. They did allow me to proceed with taking it out of print, though. Completed books and ISBN’s are the property of the subsidy publisher, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Like commercial publishing, authors receive a royalty.

Some vanity presses use artful language to make their services sound more like traditional publishing. I know one author who thought she was submitting to a traditional publisher. Her excitement about being accepted turned to horror when the publisher informed her that they wanted $1200 to publish her book. Run, don’t walk, when you meet one of these outfits.

Pros:

• May contribute a portion of the cost

• May provide adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and some degree of marketing

• May be a way to get a book to print faster than through traditional routes.

• Offer more freedom/independence for author than conventional publishers

• May offer web-based sales, or make a book available via online booksellers

Cons:

• Take payment from author to print and bind a book

• Adjunct services are often minimal

• Books are owned by publisher and remain in publisher’s possession, with authors receiving royalties for any copies sold

• Most subsidy publishers keep a portion of the rights

• Authors have little control over production aspects

• Often only distribute to online retailers

• Stigma within industry against vanity and subsidy presses – can result in books not being carried by certain stores or libraries

Some example of subsidy publishers are: AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford and Xlibris.

Stop by next week for my post on the pros and cons of independent publishing. The week after that, I will address E-Publishing.

Traditional Publishing: Pros and Cons

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (1)

There’s also so much information out there about all the different forms of publishing that most new authors are overwhelmed when it comes to deciding which way to go for their books.

My goal with this series of post is not to persuade or convert any author in favor of one form of publishing over another. That is a personal decision for every author, and I don’t fault anyone for what choice they make.

I was blessed in that I was given the opportunity to publish in every manner. As a result, I now independently publish my books because that works best for me based on my experience, education, talents, and lifestyle.

Some authors would never consider anything other than traditional publishing. For them, it is not a matter of credibility. They don’t want to do all the work that goes into publishing their own books. They prefer the luxury of writing their books and handing them off.

Then, there are other authors who have told me that traditional publishing was never an option for them. They don’t want to give up their rights and control over their books. However, they don’t believe they are capable of doing the hands on work of publishing their books on their own. So, they use a subsidy publisher.

The truth is that there are advantages and disadvantages no matter which way you go. For authors trying to publish their first books, it is best not to jump into making a decision.

Hopefully, this series of posts will help make sense of each form of publishing. For the next three weeks, I am going to break down each form of publishing with the pros and cons. On Week Four, I will explain E-Book Publishing.

Feel free, if you have any questions, to shoot me an e-mail and I will answer it personally, and or answer it here for other writers who may have the same question.

Let’s begin by looking at the good old-fashioned commercial route.

Traditional Publisher:

Certainly there are many advantages to having one’s books published by a commercial publisher. For this post, a traditional publisher is a publisher that pays its authors advances, actively markets and promotes their titles, and assumes all production and distribution costs. This category can also include small independent publishers.

Beware; there are some disreputable subsidy publishers that may masquerade as a traditional publisher. One author told me that a publisher congratulated her on accepting her book for publication and then wanted fifteen hundred dollars from her. Run, don’t walk, from these type of outfits.

Traditional publishers don’t care about publishing great literature. They only care about selling books and making money. Currently, the traditional publishers are losing money hand over fist for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list of those reasons, poor executive decisions and advances in technology that have upset their apple carts.

Therefore, publishers will only invest in what they consider guaranteed money-makers. Proven authors, celebrities, and big named politicians have no trouble getting contracts because, financially, publishers can’t take the risk of investing in an unknown quantity. One source I checked claims the current rate of traditional publishers accepting previously unpublished authors is one percent.

The bigger traditional publishers will only accept book submissions through literary agents. So, a portion of your six-to- ten percent royalty will go to your agent. If you do not have a literary agent and you are offered a contract from a traditional publisher, have your contract looked over by a literary attorney. I know an author whose book was sold to a producer to be made into a movie. She received zero money on the deal because she had signed over the film rights of her book to the traditional publisher.

Pros:

• Pays authors an advance against royalties, based on anticipated sales.

• Pays all upfront costs of publication (editing, design, printing, marketing, distribution and fulfillment fees, advertising, pr).

• Takes care all legal formalities (ISBN, Lib. of Congress, copyright, permissions etc.).

• Provides most of the labor associated with bringing a book to market. (Cover design, interior layout, printing, etc)

• Value attached to “being published by…”

• Books sold everywhere (stores, chains, libraries, online, etc.)

Cons:

• Royalties paid to author are only 6-12% (10% average) of net sales, and nothing until the advance plus all upfront costs “earn out.”

• Majority of authors never see any more revenue from the book beyond the advance.

• Books are owned by the publisher. Author gets 10-20 copies; must buy more at cost for book events.

• Publisher only puts real marketing dollars or energy behind books with best shot at success.

• Authors have little control over final book because they have sold their rights for the book to the publisher.

• Increasingly difficult to land a publisher. According to some sources, traditional publishers are only accepting 1% of new unpublished authors.

• Takes 18-24 mos. for a publisher to bring a book to market from contract to books in hand.

• Authors expected to significantly supplement marketing plans with own efforts but are not allotted additional money or royalties to do so. Note above Con stating the publishers only put real marketing dollars and energy behind books with best shot at success.

• Proprietary: “That’s our area, not yours… so even though we don’t have time (or funds) to do it, you can’t either.”

Examples of traditional publishers: Random House, St. Martins Press, Ballentine, Poisoned Pen.

Excuse Me. What Are You Talking About?

Posted on August 15, 2011 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (2)

Authors need to know about book publishing, especially if they intend to have their books published. Going into publishing your book based on perceived misconceptions is what leads to mistakes that can sometimes be costly in dollars and your book’s success. Trying to get your book released without learning anything about publishing is like trying to bake a cake without bothering to learn the basics of an oven. If you’re not careful, you’re liable to get burnt.

That’s why my following series of blog posts will be about publishing, including a breakdown of the many types of publishing options out there for authors.

First, let’s start with the basics.

Publishing Terms

Below are a list of words used when discussing publishing that every writer hears all the time. However, many new authors assume they know what they mean. These words are thrown about so much by publishers, agents, and authors that many writers are intimidated to ask questions about them for fear of giving away their naivety. (Okay, if I have to be the only author that was afraid to admit I didn’t know what an ISBN was when I started out, so be it!)

Well, there’s no need to pretend any longer that you know what authors and publishers are talking about—or make any assumptions.

ARC: Advanced Review Copy: When you traditionally publish, approximately 3-4 months before a book is released, the publisher will send out advanced copies of books to publications, reviewers, or even celebrities. Authors will sometimes offer ARC’s as giveaways or prizes for fans.

The purpose of this advanced release of the book is two-fold:

The reviewers are able to read the book and provide reviews, which will come out at the time as the release.

In the meantime, the author is reviewing the book for any last minute errors he/or she may catch. For the author, the ARC is their proof. It comes off the same press at the same time as the ARC. On television or in the movies, you will hear authors refer to these as galleys or galley proofs.

When you receive your ARC, you should sit down to read it carefully. A hard copy book reads differently than it does on a computer screen or in loose pages spread out across your bed. This is not the time to make grand sweeping changes, but it is your last chance to catch mistakes. I guarantee you’ll find mistakes. Don’t be ashamed of how many mistakes you do find. It is better to find them now, rather than after your book is released and reviewers posts reviews on Amazon about your typos, which they will do.

Authors who independently publish can also send out ARCs. With Old Loves Die Hard, I had compiled a list of reviewers wanting to review the second the second installment of my Mac Faraday Mystery. When I ordered my proof for Old Loves Die Hard, I simply ordered extra copies to send to them. While I was going over the last proof, these reviewers were reading the ARC the exact same way reviewers get advance reviews ready for traditionally published books. In the same week I approved Old Loves Die Hard for release, two reviewers posted reviews for it on their website.

Advance: An advance is an approximation of what the publisher thinks your book will earn you in royalties in (perhaps) a year. It is an advance payment on those earnings, thus the name. Essentially, an advance is a loan that you don't pay interest on (and would only pay back in cases covered by the contract). It's the publisher gambling that there will eventually be money in that book. Usually, the publisher is wrong. According to a New York Time article I read recently, 7 out of 10 titles do not earn back their advance. If you do not earn back your advance, the publisher will not take your next book.

Now, you are an unknown, and by that I mean you do not have paparazzi waiting in your driveway for you to leave your home in the morning. Therefore, the publisher will be expecting you to spend that money on marketing and promotion. Either you can do it yourself or hire a publicist, whatever you have to do to make your book sell enough copies to cover that advance on your royalties. Don’t be expecting the publisher to put any money into the marketing of your book. Unless you’re Dan Brown or Stephen King, they’re not going to be putting anything into promoting your book for you. The publishers only invest marketing money into their authors who are in the top 5 percent of book sales. The rest are on their own. It is going to be your responsibility to make this book a success.

Because an advance is a sort of loan, you won't start earning royalties until your accrued royalties have earned back that advance. So when you see on the news about Stephen King or Dan Brown getting a multi-million dollar advance, keep this in mind: Those authors won’t be getting any royalties until their books sell enough to cover that advance, and if it doesn’t—It won’t be pretty.

Now you could blow your advance on a cruise or take it to Vegas and have a weekend to remember. The publisher won’t stop you. But, if that book does not earn back what he’s invested in you, then you won’t be able to sell him your next book. If your book is a bomb, your publisher will be passing on the word to the other publishers. They do talk to each other.

Copyright: These days, almost all things are copyrighted the moment they are written, and no copyright notice is required. Registration with the Copyright office provides a documentation of your copyright. You can now register your copyright online with the Library of Congress. Simply upload your file. It does take a long time for them to process it, but that does not mean that your work is not yours until you get your certificate. Your work is still protected even if you have not registered it. The fee is $35.

ISBN/ISBN-13:"ISBN" stands for "International Standard Book Number". An ISBN is a number, not the bar code. One agency per country is designated to assign ISBNs for the publishers and self-publishers located in that country. In the US that is Bowker. The ISBN identifies the title or other book-like product (such as an audiobook) to which it is assigned, but also the publisher to be contacted for ordering purposes.

The ISBN does not have anything to do with the publisher’s rights to your book. I have had authors think that if they self-publish through CreateSpace and they get the ISBN from CreateSpace that they are handing over their rights to Amazon. No, that is not the case.

When participating in the ISBN standard, publishers and self-publishers are required to report all information about their titles to which they have assigned ISBNs. When an author calls up a bookstore, or a customer calls a store to order your book, then the first thing the bookstore want to know is the ISBN. They type that into their computer and they will get everything they need to know – including the publisher and distributor.

ISBN/ISBN-13 stays with the publisher, and a book can have more than one ISBN.

For example, Five Star Mystery, the traditional publisher for A Reunion to Die For obtained the ISBN for my title. When I re-released the print version through CreateSpace, I couldn’t use the same ISBN/ISBN-13 because the ISBN stayed with Five Star. I had to obtain a new ISBN from CreateSpace. When I published the Kindle version, I got another ISBN from DTP, which is another Amazon company. When I published the e-version with Barnes and Noble Pub-It, I got another ISBN, because Barnes and Noble is yet another publisher. A Reunion to Die For has still another ISBN through Books-In-Motion, who publishes the audio version. A Reunion to Die For has five ISBN numbers from five different publishers, but none of them have any rights to that book. I have all the rights for A Reunion to Die For.

Many authors will buy their own the ISBN/ISBN-13 from Bowkers in order to avoid having a known self-publishing company’s imprint on their book so that it will not be readily identified as an independently published title. When going through CreateSpace, you simply give them the ISBN number and they will place it on the cover. In this case, you will be listed as the publisher with Bowkers. CreateSpace is acting as your printer.

Distribution. When it comes to print publishing, distribution is important. Distribution is sending the printed book to the warehouse or the store to get it on the shelf. The vast majority of bookstores will not carry your book in their store or book you for a book signing, if they can’t get your book from their wholesale distributor. Why? Because they pay a whole lot less for it from the distributor. We’re talking a fraction of the full price. Then the bookstore will turn around and sell it for full price and make a nice profit. The biggest distributors are Ingram and Baker and Taylor.

If your book is not available to the major distributors: Baker and Taylor, Ingram, etc, then the bookstores won’t be able to make your book available to readers. You can shovel tens of thousands of dollars into promotion and have thousands of people calling Books-A-Million begging for your book. But, if it isn’t with their wholesale distributor, they’ll come back to the customer and say, “Sorry, we can’t get it.” If bookstores won’t buy it, it will be harder for customers to get. If your book is hard for customers to get, then they’ll give up and you will lose a sale.

You need to make your book available with the wholesale distributors. If your publisher doesn’t list your book with Ingrams and Baker & Taylor, don’t waste your time.

It is the same with E-books. On the e-book side we have Lightning Source who distributes the e-books to the online e-bookstores.

Since the wholesaler distributors are buying your book from the publisher at such a discount, then that means that you will get less money per book in your royalties when the book is purchased through the wholesaler.

This is the point at which many new authors will get confused (because it is confusing) when it comes to their royalty statements.

Let’s say an author is expecting ten percent in royalties on their $20 book. They are expecting $2 royalty for every book sold. However, royalties based on wholesale prices (books sold through the distributors) are called net royalties. Things get more complicated here.

Again assume that you've written a book that retails for $20, but it is sold to the wholesaler for a sixty percent discount. That means it is now $8. Ten percent of $8 is eighty cents.

Many authors forget, or aren’t even aware, of wholesale sales when their book comes out. They will do a quick calculation: Two dollars per book. A thousand-dollar advance. Sell five hundred books to earn back my advance.

Unfortunately, if the majority of your books are sold through wholesale distributors, which they very well could be, as you can see by the math, you need to sell a whole lot more to earn back your advance.

Marketing and Promotion is the process of compelling the readers to go to the bookstore or the online bookstores to buy your book. That is sending out ARC’s to reviewers to get people talking about your book. Sending out press releases to the media. Booking events at bookstores. Booking visits onto blogs. Social marketing on Facebook and Twittering. Designing book markers, postcards, and other media. Getting booked onto author panels at book conferences and book fairs.

Distribution and Marketing are not one and the same.

I had a new author contact me that she was signing with a publisher because they told her that her book was going to be in all the bookstores because it was going to be with the wholesale distributors. I thought, “Hmm, my books are with the distributors but they’re not in every bookstore.” During further conversation, I came to find that by the publisher telling her that her book was going to be sent to the wholesale distributor, she thought that meant that her book was automatically going be on the bookshelves in every bookstore. She was envisioning seeing her book on display right inside the door at Barnes and Noble.

She was confusing distribution with marketing. She is not alone. Many authors will do this.

When a publisher tells you that your book is going to be listed with Baker & Taylor and Ingrams and available to all the bookstores, that means your book will be available for them to purchase. That is distribution, it is not marketing.

Print on Demand (POD), sometimes called publish on demand, is digital printing. It is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received. "Print on Demand" was developed only after digital printing began because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology.

Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers.

Many small publishers use CreateSpace as a printer. Their cover designer actually has a spot on the cover for publishers or independent authors to place their own logo. The advantage of Print on Demand for self-publishers and small presses is that they don’t have to invest in a large inventory. Before print on demand, self-publishers or small presses would have to shell out of pocket thousands of dollars to print up an inventory of say 500 books. Then, if those books didn’t sell, they would be out that money and have a warehouse full of books.

Another advantage of print on demand, is that if the author or publisher finds a glaring mistake in the book, then they can more readily fix it. All they do is make the correction on the file and upload it. From that point forward, any runs that are made will have the corrections. Of course, you can’t do anything about the copies that have been printed and are in distribution, but it is better than having to wait for a second printing, which authors would and still have to do with the major publishers.

I heard about an author whose traditional publisher failed to make the corrections she had requested from her proof. We’re not talking about one or two missing commas or period. Somehow her requested changes had slipped through the cracks and the publisher released the uncorrected proof to the public. Thousands of copies had been printed and sent to the distributors. All the publisher told the author was, “Oops. Sorry.” There was nothing they could do. Since she was new and unknown they didn’t think she was worth the investment of throwing out all those thousands of books and printing up new copies of the corrected version.

Print on Demand is so cost effective, especially for a small print job, that some companies are courting bookstore to purchase POD machines that will actually print the book in the store while the customer waits. As you can in this video, the Expresso Book Machine is a little bit larger than a copier and works almost as fast.

I’m sure there are words that I have missed, but these are the ones that I have been asked most frequently about. If I have missed any that you would like to know about, or even think that other authors should have clarification on, please let me know.

Now, young author, you are fully arms for your next conversation with publishers, agents, or even other authors. Go forth now and prosper.

Come back next week for my posting which will give you the low down in traditional publishing and the pros and cons of pursuing this route.

It's Okay to Say No to Book Promotion

Posted on July 29, 2011 at 8:51 AM Comments comments (0)

It’s okay to say no, thank you, to book events.

Is that a wail among authors that I hear?

Some are shocked and dismayed. Has she lost her mind? Is she really telling us that we don’t need to promote our books? If we don’t promote them, no one will know about them; thus, no one will read them. What do you think we’re writing them for? Come on, Lauren!

Others are hopeful. Is it true? Please tell me it’s true and I can drop this damn crap that I hate and go back to working on my next book.

Now that I have your attention, I’ll clarify:

Authors don’t have to participate in every book event there is out there. As a matter of fact, authors who want to get the best bang for their promotion time, not to mention bucks, should pick and choose wisely what events they do, and pass on others.

With the demise of Borders Bookstores, and other brick and mortar stores dying every day, authors of print books are desperately seeking other venues to promote their books. Some authors feel like they aren’t really promoting their books unless they have a table set up someplace. Online promotion doesn’t cut it for them since they don’t actually see the reader buying the book. One author told me in a desperate tone, “I need to get out there and promote my book.”

So they’ll go everywhere and anywhere. Coffee shops, supermarkets, malls, trade shows, county fairs, beauty pageants, children’s birthday parties. If there’s room for a table to rest level, they’ll be there. Sometimes they’ll have good events where they sell a lot of books. Other times, they’ll come home depressed, frustrated, and asking, “Did I do something wrong?”

Believe me. I know what I’m talking about. Been there. Done that.

At one bookstore, I spent the afternoon as the target of disgust from customers because I was between them and the caffeine. At that same event a group of ladies on probation from the nursing home down the street plopped down at my table. I entertained them for hours while their grown children drank their lattes and surfed the Internet in the coffee shop. When it was time to take the old ladies back to the home, the children left without buying one book or giving me a thank you for babysitting their mothers.

Unattended events where no books get sold are not simply a waste of the author’s time; they are also a waste of marketing energy and money. There’s the cost of ink and paper for posters and flyers, plus the travel expense going to and from the event.

The biggest expense is the emotional strain. Too many lackluster book events take a toll on an author’s confidence, which can affect their attitude. After a long string of dud appearances, an author, doubting their own books and talent, can come to dread promotional events. After a while, even potentially good events can turn sour due to the author’s bad attitude.

The truth is that not all book events are created equal. Here are some tips to keep in mind, look for, and avoid when picking and choosing, or organizing book events.

Accept the fact that you’re an unknown. If you don’t have a following yet, and people don’t know you, readers are not going to go out of their way to come meet you and buy your book –unless your book is about a topic that everyone wants to know about and people are clammering to buy it before you’ve even started scheduling events.

It’s okay that you’re an unknown. I’m an unknown, too. Ninety-five percent of the authors out there doing book events are unknowns. Get over it and join the club.

Once you know no one knows you, then you’re armed to avoid book events that are doomed because of their success is contingent on you, unknown author, bringing in the crowds. Knowing you can’t draw in the crowds, you can plan accordingly by avoiding events offering nothing except the opportunity to meet the author(s).

After my first book, A Small Case of Murder, was named finalist for the Independent Publishers Book Award, the newspaper ran a feature about my award. Some local authors organized a meet and greet event to have Dinner with the Authors at a banquet room in restaurant. These authors had hoped that the crowds would come to meet their main draw, Lauren Carr, IPPY finalist, and they could sell their books. Seven people showed.

Yes, everyone loves authors. Everyone loves to meet authors. But, unless that author is someone who is truly famous, most people are not going to go out of their way to meet said author, especially if they’re not going to get anything out of it except the opportunity to spend their money on a book with the unknown author’s signature in it.

Events that fall under this category are:

Meet and Greet Author Events: These are mass book signing events. They are often held in the middle of shopping malls or hotel banquet rooms. Filled with excitement and expectation, the authors come in with their banners and signs and books. After hours of smiling at people dodging them for fear of being drawn in for a sales pitch, the authors leave grumbling about how they’ll never come back to this event again.

If you’re considering participating in a group book signing, here are some things to look for. If the answer is no to all of these points, avoid it.

    • Does the event have something to draw in customers? A drawing for a gift basket? Workshop on quilting? Martial arts demonstration? Free entertainment? Free food? If not, don’t expect to sell a lot of books.
    • Is the event in a high traffic area where people can stumble upon it and make impulse buys? If the event is not someplace where you can be tripped over, say no thank you and spend that afternoon working on your next book or writing a guest blog post.
    • Can you be featured? It’s bad enough being an unknown, but at a mass book signing event, you are an unknown among a bunch of other unknowns and you’re all trying to stand out in a crowd. If you’re considering participating in a meet and greet, ask the coordinator if you can be featured, either with an interview to tell about your book, or give a demonstration to draw attention to you. If you can’t be featured in some fashion, no one is going to know you’re there. You may want to pass.

Bookstores that aren’t heavily trafficked. Bookstores and book signings go hand in hand, right? Yes, but if the book store doesn’t get much in the way of customer traffic on a regular day, an unknown author isn’t going to bring in many more. When scheduling author event at bookstores, avoid brand new bookstores that haven’t been open long enough to build up a customer base, unless they’re in a busy shopping mall or plaza where customers are likely to drop in. Also avoid bookstores, even chain stores, that are in economically depressed areas. If people in that area are having trouble getting the money to pay their mortgages, it’s doubtful they’re going to be buying books.

Your Target Audience: Go Where They Go, Avoid Where They Aren’t: The first thing literary agents and publishers ask authors: “Who’s your target audience?”

Even when they independently publish, authors should know the answer to that question. This is valuable information to have when planning book events.

One author had written a YA book about a teen-aged boy that had died of cancer. After the book’s release, the author scheduled book signings at every cancer fundraising event within driving distance. He spent a whole afternoon behind a book signing table in a bar at a charity poker event sponsored by a motorcycle club to raise money for cancer research. He was disheartened to have sold one book, but he did get to drink all the free beer he could manage.

Why was the book event a flop? His audience was Young Adult, not middle-aged motorcycle bikers. His target audience couldn’t even get into the bar.

When scheduling a book event, one of your first questions should be, “Will my target audience be there?” If the local county fair allows authors to schedule book signing events, then you may want to set one up to sell your gardening book. But if your book is a male gay erotica, you may want to stay away from a family gathering event.

My target audience is middle-aged women who love murder mysteries. Where can you find middle-aged women during the month of August? Dragging their kids to bookstores to purchase school supplies. Last year, I had a series of fabulous book signing events that I scheduled during back to school sales at bookstores.

Check the Community Calendar: Avoid Conflicting Your Event With Bigger Local Events:

I’ve had two book events that on paper seemed perfect. One was a busy independent book store in a small town. I sold to one hundred percent of the customers who came in that day – all two of them. The manager and I were both scratching our heads about where everyone was. We found out from the two customers. The town was holding a big hot air balloon show at the fairgrounds. The manager knew about the balloon show, but had no idea that everyone in town was going there.

At another event, an art gallery had scheduled a meet and greet author event for the town’s centennial. Everyone was going to be in town for the parade. With everyone being in town, we should have sold tons of books, right? Wrong. One person came into the gallery and that was to use the restroom. The event failed because it was scheduled for the exact same time as the parade. Yes, everyone was in town, but no one was thinking about buying books. The manager should have scheduled the event for the hours leading up to the parade -- before the police blocked off the street so no one could get to us.

Other large events can work in your favor. For example, when I’m booking an author signing for a brick and mortar bookstore, I’ll ask if they’re planning any big special events or sales. My last two big book signings were successful because I piggy backed onto other bigger events. One was a big tent sale that the store had already scheduled. At another store, I scheduled the signing for during a street festival right outside the shop. We moved my table out onto the sidewalk. Thinking I was part of the festival, patrons bought almost all of my books and I had a lot of fun.

Successful book events are exciting and fun for authors. After a good event, I come home and churn out pages and pages for my next book. The best way to have good events is to avoid bad ones. So pack up your books and get out there—but, my young author, choose wisely where you go.

Dog Tales -- The Beginning of Gnarly

Posted on May 23, 2011 at 5:28 AM Comments comments (0)

 

Recently, two ladies came to a book event to learn about Old Loves Die Hard.

“Is it out?” I could see the excitement on their faces. They had read It’s Murder, My Son and were anxious to read the second installment in the Mac Faraday Mysteries.

“Yes,” I enthusiastically grabbed a copy of the book to show them.

As I handed it to them, I told about how in this story, Mac’s ex-wife shows up at Spencer Manor and she wants him back! Of course! But before Mac has time to send her packing, she and her ex-lover are found murdered in Mac’s private penthouse suite at the Spencer Inn!

Now, it’s up to Mac to clear his name and the Spencer Inn’s reputation before its five-stars and more bodies start dropping.

When I concluded my sales pitch, they both looked at me wide-eyed and asked, “Is Gnarly in it?”

Everybody Loves Gnarly.

For those of you who have not heard it yet, the character of Gnarly is based on my Australian (not German) shepherd Ziggy, who I acquired during half-time at a football game.

One bright Saturday morning, I took my then seven-year old son Tristan to play football. At half-time, a woman approached Tristan and asked, “Would you like to hold my puppy?”

He looked over at me and I thought What harm can come from holding a puppy?

As soon as this bundle of fur was in his arms, the woman said, “You can keep him. He’s free.”

Then, she was gone in the crowd. I mean, she was out of there!

By noon, that bundle of fur had a name (Ziggy) and a home.

Now, I’ve grown up with dogs. After all, I’m a farm girl from Chester, WV. But I had never in my life met a dog like Ziggy.

One thing will work one day — once, then he’ll catch on to your tricks and you’ll have to use another method the next time.

For example, Ziggy is a terrible beggar. It isn’t like I taught him by feeding him from the table. Yeah. You trying saying no to that face. But, in his youth, before he mellowed, if you want to call it that, he was awful.

Someone had suggested that when he jumped up to grab food out of Tristan’s hand to shoot him with a spray bottle of cold water. So I tried it. The first time I shot him, he released Tristan’s hand from his jaws and backed off.

The next day, when my family sat around the table in the dining room for a respectable dinner, I set the spray bottle in the middle of the table next to the salt and pepper shaker and announced that the water bottle worked. If Ziggy went after Tristan’s food, shoot him with the water, and he’ll back off.

I was seated at one head of the table, while Tristan was at the other. My late father-in-law, who was wheelchair bound, and Jack were on either side of the table between Tristan and me.

Ziggy was lying in wait at Tristan’s end of the table to make his move.

When Tristan brought the chicken leg to his lips, Ziggy shot out from under the table like the great white shark in the movie Jaws and grabbed one end of the chicken leg. Tristan held on to the other end and the tug of war began.

In the heat of battle, neither side was letting go without a fight.

With Jack and Grandpa between me and Tristan all I could do was scream, “Shoot him!” It was like the game hunter in opening scene of Jurassic Park.

Jack and Grandpa were too stunned to move. So I jumped to my feet, grabbed the spray bottle and began shooting across the length of the dining room table at Ziggy, who held on while blinking at the water hitting him in the face.

It was all quite dignified.

Then, a thought occurred to me. “Tristan, what are you going to do with that chicken leg if you do get it back from him?”

That was when Tristan let it go.

Ziggy had won yet another battle.

The next day I called the trainer, who declared after tests that Ziggy was so intelligent that he got simply bored and that was when he got into trouble. He’s not a genius like Gnarly, but he’s very intelligent.

Since Gnarly first appeared in It’s Murder, My Son, it has become clear that no Mac Faraday Mystery will be complete with Gnarly. After all, he’s Mac’s side kick. Sometimes, it’s debatable about who’s the smarter one.

At every public appearance, someone has to tell me their dog story and I love hearing them. I keep each one mentally stored away for when I run out of my own dog tales.

So I invite you to tell me your dog true story. You can either post it here in comments or, if it is longer, send it to me via e-mail at writerlaurencarr @ comcast.net and I will share it later in a later blog posting.

What’s your dog tale?

An Author By Any Other Name Would Still Be Me

Posted on May 9, 2011 at 8:18 PM Comments comments (0)

This past weekend I was honored to be a featured author at the Washington County Free Reading Day at the Valley Mall in Hagerstown. I met many new faces and a couple of old ones — not meaning they were old, but rather that they were familiar and not new faces to me.

At one point, an author I had known for years came rushing over to me and said, almost in an accusing tone, “I didn’t know Lauren Carr wasn’t your real name.”

By the look on his face, you would have thought that I had been living under an alias and he had only just now discovered that I was Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy hiding out from the law.

The truth is my true identity is not exactly a state secret. Yep, Lauren Carr, Jack’s wife, Tristan’s Mom, Ziggy and Beagle Bailey’s Mistress – they would all be me.

Pen names are nothing new. Authors have been using them for centuries. Some names are famous: Mark Twain was really Samuel Clemens and Dr. Seuss was Theodor Geisel. Ann Landers was Esther Pauline Friedman. O. Henry was William Sydney Porter.

Why would an author change his or her name to hide his or her identity from the real world rather than step forth and take all the glory they deserve for having completed the daunting task of writing a book?

There could be any number of reasons:

In Mary Ann Evans’ case, she was writing at a time when books written by men were more successful than those written by female authors. So Evans assumed a man's name (George Eliot) to relate better with her readers.

Likewise, award winning mystery author L.C. Hayden, says that when she first started writing by her real name of Elsie Hayden, she received rejection after rejection. until she changed her name to L.C. to give publishers and readers the impression that she was a male writer.

Another author I recently worked with used a pen name because his first book, fiction based on fact, said some not so nice things about some real people and he wanted to hide his identity. During my career, I have met more than one writer considering the use of pen names for just this reason.

In the case of Stephen King (Yes, even Stephen King used a pen name!) he didn’t want to risk saturating the market with Stephen King books. At the beginning of Stephen King's career, publishers limited authors to one book a year. In order to increase his publishing, he convinced his publisher, to print a series of novels under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

My reason for using the pen name of Lauren Carr is not quite so grand, or even interesting. Frankly, I don’t like the name Terri. I never did. My husband rarely calls me by my real name because he knows I hate it. when I was growing up, I realized that since I wrote fiction, which is not real, then I was free to take on a not-real name and I could be any one I wanted.

What a kick!

I thought long and hard about my name. I gave as much thought to it as an expectant mother, because that was who I was going to be, even if only on the cover of a book. Little did I realize that as my career has grown, that Lauren Carr would become a whole other identity, which is also a kick.

I chose Lauren because my sister’s name is Karen. I was convinced that if my mother was thinking straight, that Lauren, not Terri, would have naturally followed Karen. Don’t ask me why or how I came to this conclusion, I just did. Carr was my stepfather’s last name.

So, I became Lauren Carr, a pen name that I have had longer than my real name. I was Lauren Carr before I married my husband and took on his name.

Is it fun? Sure is.

Recently, I wrote a mystery dinner theater for our church, at which my husband has been the financial director for almost twenty years. We had three performances and I hosted the event. During the performances, I would be introduced as Lauren Carr to this audience in which most of them had known me as Jack’s wife and Tristan’s mom for almost twenty years.

Jaws did drop. Many people in the audience had read Lauren Carr books, written by the local author, but they didn’t know Tristan’s mom wrote murder mysteries. She seems so normal!

Likewise, a couple of weeks later, I was at the church, where my husband is the financial director. I was coming down the hall when I heard the administrative assistant telling a woman in her office, “You really should ask Terri about that. She might be able to help you.”

“Who’s Terri?” the woman replied.

“Jack’s wife,” Jill answered.

Hearing my name, I stepped into the office and a woman who I had recognized as a church member, and from the audience of the play, turned around. When she saw me she said, “That’s not Jack’s wife. That’s Lauren Carr, the lady that wrote the play.”

Laughing, Jill explained, “Lauren Carr is a pen name. She’s really Jack’s wife.”

The woman’s eyes got wide. “Jack Zaleski is married to Lauren Carr!” Judging by her expression, you would have thought I was Nora Roberts (another author that uses a pen name) living undercover as a middle aged church lady.

Other questions that writers considering using pen names ask me:

What about when customers write checks? Do you have to make them sign them under your real name? No. I contacted my bank and explained the situation, which they thought was cool. Customers write out their checks to Lauren Carr. I simply deposit the whole amount into my account, which is under my real name. but do let your bank know that you and your pen name are one and the same.

Post Office: Let the post office and your mail carrier know that mail addressed to your pen name is for you. Otherwise, it might be returned as wrong address.

E-Mail Address: Very simple. Comcast allows you to set up numerous e-mail addresses Many people who don't have multiple identities have more than one e-mail address. I have one e-mail that I use for my personal accounts. Another (writerlaurencarr@comcast.net) for my writing and publishing e-mails. I also have different signature lines set up in Outlook. If it has to do with writing, the signature line is from Lauren Carr. I do admit that sometimes I get confused and will accidentally send out e-mails to writing contacts under my real name.

What do I want to be called? Call me anything. Just don’t call me late for dinner.

Living For A Writing

Posted on July 14, 2010 at 2:38 PM Comments comments (2)

Back when my hair was naturally blond and my idea of dieting was only three scoops of chocolate ice cream drowning in hot fudge sauce instead of four, I went through a stage where I wanted to be an actress.

I was pretty, had been in quite a few plays, and thought I had some potential to go professional at some point. Toward the end of this period, I confided to my acting coach that I dreamed of playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, to which she responded with a hearty—and cruel—laugh. “You have a lot of living to do before you can ever play Blanche DuBois, dear.”

My translation: “Don’t give up your day job, child. You ain’t got the talent.”

So I went back to the school paper and never set foot on the stage again except when they called “Author! Author!” for a murder mystery I had written.

At that stage of my life I was a naïve teenager living at home with my mother. I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke. The character I had dreamed of portraying on the stage was an aging alcoholic Southern belle who lived in a state of perpetual panic about her fading beauty. Her life was completely at the other end of the spectrum from mine. How could I even begin to comprehend the depths of this character in order to portray her convincingly?

I came to realize the source of that coach’s laughter recently when the opportunity presented itself for me to take a gun class. I jumped at the chance for a couple of reasons:

I thought it would be fun, and it was;

As the author of murder mysteries in which my main characters regularly carry and shoot guns, I believed it would be good research to find out about these weapons.

On the last night, the instructor took the class to the range for us to shoot a variety of guns on the range. When he placed the loaded 32 caliber semi-automatic in my hand, I had a feeling that I didn’t expect: Fear.

I looked down at this thing in my hand and thought: I could kill someone with this.

The weapon wasn’t as heavy as I had expected, but it sure looked scary to me. I went up to the range and when the instructor called out, “Threat!” (He didn’t call out “Fire” because we were to shoot at our leisure, not on command.) I pulled the trigger and emptied the gun of six rounds.

No one was as surprised as I was when I hit the center of the target with almost every shot. I was good!

As I examined the target and all the holes that I had put in it, I looked down at the gun in my hand and felt a sense of power: I could kill someone with this.

Since I write murder mysteries, it goes without saying that people get killed in my books. Detectives with guns go after the bad guys, and bad guys with guns go after the good guys. Even though most murder mystery authors don’t really carry badges and guns and shoot real bullets at real bad guys (but many have), it doesn’t hurt to get out there and take a short walk in their shoes, even if only for play, in order to bring something authentic to the page.

By the time the instructor upgraded me to a 9 millimeter semi-automatic, I was able to put myself in the mind of Archie Monday when a murder suspect attempts to intimidate her in It’s Murder, My Son. As I aimed at the target with the same weapon I had her use, I envisioned the suspect in my sites. I was now present in the scene in a way I hadn’t been before.

I don’t think my acting coach meant that I had to become a lush in order to play Blanche DuBois. She probably meant that I should stay out after midnight at least one night in order to have something to draw on. Even the most talented actor with the vastest imagination can’t put himself in the character of a cat if he’s never even seen one. How can you write about a broken heart if your heart has never been broken? You can’t just imagine how it feels.

Many writers, I’m included, are introverts. They are most content when they’re home alone writing away on an intoxicating wave of imagination. But eventually that wave will come in. Imagination can take a writer only so far. Without some basis of reality to stand on they’re going to sink to the bottom.

That reality comes from getting out of the writer’s studio and collecting a stockpile of life experiences to store away and feed the imagination, even if only to draw upon it at a later time in another project further down the road.

So, put away that laptop. Brush your teeth. Take a gun class! Go bungee jumping or sky diving (that’s another blog post for a later time!). Go out into the world and do some living—then write about it!

Oops! I Did It Again!

Posted on June 21, 2010 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

 

Last week, the proof for It’s Murder, My Son arrived and I immediately poured a glass of iced tea, put up my feet, and proceeded to read it from cover to cover.

 

A book reads differently when you’re not reading it on a laptop screen or a stack of papers with a red pen in hand. The words flow differently when you are holding it bound in a cover, sitting with your feet up, and a glass of cranberry iced tea at your elbow. When it comes to the proof, the author needs to put themselves in reader mode and try to pick up on what their readers will pick up.

 

When I did this with It’s Murder, My Son, I sucked in a deep breath that comes with the feeling of horror when I reached page 74. Holding my breath, I reread the section praying that I was not reading it the way the average reader would read it. It didn’t do any good. No matter how many times and ways I read it, it read the same.

 

Multi-millionaire playboy Mac Faraday has come across a witness for Niles Holt’s murder. He calls police officer David O’Callaghan to inform him that said witness had given a statement to the police at the time, but his statement, which contained pertinent information, seems to have gotten buried. Why?

 

On page 74, David O’Callaghan goes to the file room to retrieve the case file. On this page I state that he had read over the file so many times that he had it memorized. A few paragraphs later, for the first time, he is reading the witness’s statement.

 

The question hit me: If David had reviewed the case file so many times that he had it memorized, why didn’t he know anything about that witness statement? Why didn’t he know anything about the witness? The statement was right there in the file.

 

Ugh!

 

Luckily, this was the proof and it was an easy fix before going public. It’s Murder, My Son has been through two editors, which means two fresh pair of eyes have looked at it, but still no one noticed that David missed that witness statement after memorizing the case file.

 

That is why authors must go over every proof even if they feel like their eyes are going to bleed if they have to read “that thing” one more time.

 

I take comfort in knowing that it happens to the best of us.

 

Celia Hayes, author of To Truckee's Trail and The Adelsverein Trilogy, calls proofing “the ritual humiliation of authors”. She confesses, “There was an essential part of a word omitted in Chapter 4 of To Truckee's Trail which still aggravates the heck out of me. On pg 60, there is a description of wagon-train emigrants breaking camp, and mention of 'the privy-pits with the last shovel thrown upon their contents’ when it should have been ‘last shovel-full’. I am still embarrassed by it.”

 

Celia recalls the most potentially embarrassing typo; which she mercifully did catch in the ARC, and was able to correct in the released book; was in Adelsverein: The Gathering. In the dedication and thanks, she had misspelled the name of a person who had been enormously helpful and encouraging. If she had not caught this error, Celia says it would have been “embarrassment of the most heinous.”

 

Recalling one of his own bloopers, Dr. John Yeoman suggests, “We worry too much about published 'mistakes' that the reader will probably never spot but we never see those errors, too late to amend, that they joy in disclosing to us.”

 

Dr.  Yeoman recalls, “My PhD thesis in creative writing referred throughout to one 'K J Rowling' as the author of the Harry Potter novels. This mistake appeared in several places, although I had proofread the thesis umpteen times. My examiners awarded me a doctorate magna cum laude, but neither referred to my howler. This rather suggested they had not read my thesis. The error only came to light when my wife flipped through the bound volume, about to be lodged in the campus library, and whooped with delight. No, I did not correct it."

 

Maybe it is because of those who do delight in pointing out our mistakes after a book’s release, even in a jovial manner, that authors feel particularly sensitive to any literary misstep. It’s been ingrained into our psyche as writers that our work must be perfect. Literary agents and publishers only accept work that is error free. One mistake and you’re out, especially if that mistake goes live in a published book.

 

Authors can assume that those who make it to the best seller lists don’t make any mistakes like having a detective find a report tucked into a case file that he has long memorized, or not knowing the name of a famous author. After all, isn’t it their perfection that separates them from the rest of us?

 

Not necessarily.

 

Mistakes happen, even to the best of us. So many in fact that one website is dedicated to listing them for our enjoyment…and emotional support:

According to website the Best Book Mistakes, the master of suspense, Stephen King had trouble deciding which of Eddie’s arms was broken in his book IT. It went back and forth between the left and the right.

In the start of Part 6, in King’s The Green Mile, the men let Percy out of the closet. They take the tape off his mouth and he starts to rub his lips, then lowers his hand to speak. The problem is that he's in a straight-jacket at this point.

In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, when Edward is telling Carlisle's history to Bella, he says that around 1660-1670 Carlisle found a coven of true vampires that lived hidden in the sewers of the city. According to Best Book Mistakes, the vampires couldn't have been hidden inside the sewers because there weren't any. The sewage system was only built around 1859.

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while being sorted into houses, Harry looks up at the Sorting Stool, and there are only three people left to be sorted. Professor McGonagall then calls out the names of four more kids.

 

So, boys and girls, the moral is we can take comfort in our imperfections. This is not to say that we can let down our guard and write with wreckless abandonment and a total disregard for facts, grammar, and continuity. But, if we do make a mistake, even if it goes public, we can shake our head, say, “Oops! I did it again,” and keep on writing.


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