Thursday, November 20, 2008

Authors Den Redux, Part I: Book Sales

Book Sales – (1/27/04 – Marketing)

There is an elephant in our refrigerator that we rarely mention when discussing the sales, or lack thereof, of our books.

You may have been reading on numerous Internet message boards very heated discussions that have invariably turned into childish slap-fights over why POD authors are treated so derisively by traditional publishers, reviewers, the media, and even the reading public. We as POD authors tend to read these with the same intensity that we watch the aftermath of traffic accidents on the freeway. We are very glad that we happened to be driving in the other lane, but we still want to know how badly someone else was injured. We also want to know how and why the tragedy occurred. As self-published authors, we want to know more than anything else on earth why our books are not selling in the numbers we had expected. We want to know about the failures as well as the triumphs. At least one of the slapping authors is usually one whose books either have not been out long enough or the author has not done enough research of the problem or spent enough time and/or money on promotion, or someone who is kind enough to defend the rights of others in the pursuit of their publishing goals. The antagonist is usually a mean spirited, know-it-all, holier-than-thou personality type. He insists that he knows all about how POD publishing is nothing but a scam; POD is a process, not a type of real publisher; 99% of all POD books are poorly written and edited and ready for the dumpster; nobody is a real author until they have released a book with an established, traditional publisher; and/or that POD books nearly always sell so poorly that anyone who releases a book with an established, mass-market, accept-every-manuscript, POD company is a sucker of the most obvious type.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? I am sick of reading these diatribes, and you probably are, too. I cannot speak for you, but I am tired of reading about it because there is one ominous presence in our modern culture that has ruined it for all of us that is never mentioned, although I sincerely think it is truly embedded within the minds of some of those presenting the nicer side of the argument. The antagonistic side just shows its level of fatheaded ignorance by not mentioning it. Of course they are aware of it. Their usual intention in the first place is to start an argument. If they told the whole truth, there would be no fight. The people starting these heated discussions are just massaging their own egos. I am going to drag the vampire out into the sunlight. The ominous presence is the way that American corporations for more than thirty years have systematically controlled the consuming public for the creation of unfathomable profits. The key is not simply that business is in the business of making money, and that's the way it has always been. The key is the way the corporations have slowly, carefully, and deliberately strangled the life out of the middle class since the first hint of economic downturn came to America in 1970. The Sixties really were a special time. If you were born after the Baby Boomers, they don't even want you to know this. They want you to think that life in these United States has always been this way. They want you to think you have to buy $100 sneakers made by children in Southeast Asia for two bits an hour. They want you to think that the job market has to be founded on quicksand. They want you to be so absorbed with selfish consumerism and celebrity worship that you never see what they are doing behind the curtain like The Wizard of Oz.

Do you think this has nothing to do with why your book isn't selling? Do the corporate mergers have nothing to do with why your manuscript was immediately thrown in the trash by every traditional publisher you sent it to? Does this not also apply to your books that reviewers sell for personal profit on Amazon, and other sites without even reading them? Ten years ago you at least had a prayer of getting your manuscript into the slush pile without hiring an agent. Today, that's how difficult it is just to get an agent, and without one, your book goes straight to the pleasantly titled Marketplace at Amazon! In spite of all the arrogant egomaniacs telling you how your writing, which they have never read, must show incompetence or else you would land a traditional publishing contract, this is the real reason for the explosive growth of the author-paid, POD publishers. Quality and diversity have been squeezed out of every pore of our consumer culture. The anaconda cares for nothing except short-term profits. If a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography will sell the quickest, then that's what the snake allows to live. It cares nothing for redeeming subject matter or quality writing or the furtherance of art. Snakes can't read and neither can the rats the snakes feed on.

While disparaging anything that concerns psychology, sociology, or many of the other social sciences, the corporations have learned how to effectively use them to control us. The American public, in its own way unique to our time, is as brainwashed as any culture in all of human history. We hoot and holler so much about our freedoms that we never see the forest for the trees. We are so busy convincing ourselves that it is our right to buy the tabloid trash at the checkout stand that we never realize how many of us must really be buying it! When we learn how many thousands a photographer was paid for an embarrassing photo of a celebrity, we need to extrapolate truly how many copies of the trashy tabloids must be selling to consumers. When we witness the extreme success of some of the tackiest shows on television, we must wonder how many quality programs never make it to the airwaves. When we know how many of our consumer goods are manufactured by young women and children in sweatshops, why do we keep buying more and more of them at Wally-world? Why do we keep choking down McCardboard burgers, washed down with overpriced sugar water? Are we really that stupid?

There is a method to this madness, and you can read more about it in my own POD books. I know how the pythons and anacondas have so easily succeeded in their asphyxiation of American culture. We must fully accept our own part in this psychotic nightmare before we can stop it. This is what we must learn before we can turn the tide. This is what I call The Last Horizon.

Book Sales - Part 2

The hard part is securing a contract with a traditional publisher. The elephant we are discussing is the invisible force that keeps our books from being read and accepted by traditional publishers. We are held at arm's length from the readers to a much lesser degree. Buyers and readers care only that the book is about a subject they want to read. Nothing else really matters to them. Yes, of course it is true that the major POD publishers have opened the floodgates for any hack that wants to claim authorship. We as individual writers can do very little about that, other than making sure that we are not the ones releasing the junk with the bad grammar, sloppy editing, or rambling content. We also cannot help the simple mathematical issue of the cost of printing our POD books in low production numbers. We can only do the best we can with this wonderful new technology that has been offered to us. The great majority of us can only shove the elephant away from the peanut butter when we reach into the fridge for our POD snack.

In spite of all the negative harassment we have to read from the many arrogant buttheads who seem to thrive among us, we can succeed in offering the right peanut to the elephant, and that nut can be a POD book. I have personally had an excerpt from my first book published in a pachyderm compilation, and that came about directly because a member of the big gray fraternity read it in my POD book. Not only has this happened, but also you can read more of my writing coming out in another compilation in three months. Yes, you guessed it: Pachyderm Press rides again! The next time you chuckle at a slap-fight between a POD author and his seeming nemesis, just remember this story. You most likely know why you chose to release your book with a POD publisher. The elephant was more than happy to occupy your refrigerator and eat your SkippyJifPeterPan, but he had no intention of taking the morsel you offered. You can get his attention, but first you have to get him out of your refrigerator!

Lord Satan’s Legacy – (11/28/04 – Publishing)

The man who called himself Lord Satan made very few friends at Author's Den, but let's give credit where credit is due.

I just read of the death of Solomon Tulbure right here on Author's Den. I have followed his career of computer hacking and hate-mongering since his first book, Christianity Exposed, was released. Yes, he certainly made a lot of people angry, including members of the AD organization, with his rants and inflammatory posts on several author message boards. Yes, he did manage to garner more negative reviews concerning the lack of editing in his books more than any other author in history. Yes, he probably was writing in what waa a second language to him. Could you have done that? As a student who flunked more than one foreign language course, I know I could not begin to write a book in a second language.

Tulbure's books have sold a lot better than any of mine, and they probably have outsold your books, too. His second book has specifically outsold all of mine together many times over. Did Solomon know his way around a computer and the internet? Does Anne Rice know a few things about vampires? The simple fact is that Solomon succeeded handsomely where most of us have failed miserably. Yes, he may have been a bit unscrupulous in his methods, but if you worship the bottom line, he succeeded. He knew how to stir people up. He knew how to entertain the members of any message board. He knew how to sell books by an unknown author. Isn't that what we all want to know?

Amazonian Computers – (12/2/04 – Marketing)

Assessing the true availability of a POD book can be a labyrinthian nightmare or just a computer nerd's fantasy.

We all want to track the availability, sales, and marketing of our books as accurately as possible, but we can easily be led down many blind alleys that look like promising horizons. The availability statements you see at online retailers are not all created equal. Some are a lot more accurate than others. For instance, B&N online used to be the best source of iUniverse books; i.e., they shipped the fastest. After the bricks-and-mortar corporation took over the once independent online operation, their availability statements seemed to get lost in the ozone. Recent experience has shown that B&N cannot always ship directly as stated, but Amazon can. I read recently that iU books are sent directly to B&N from Lightning without going through Ingram. What does this mean in the real world of book ordering? The answer is far from clear.

Many websites offer price and availability comparisons of books. After experimenting with most of these over a long time period, I have assessed the realistic value of these sites. Addall is far and away the best, showing accurate information for the several retailers that matter. Best Web Buys displays mostly the same info as Addall, but less of it. Best Book Deal offers many additional store listings, and Price Scan shows your book listed at many online sources you never knew even existed!

The secret to understanding all this malarky is to realize that all of these individual listings are simply restated from Ingram/Lightning. Amazon and B&N are likely the only two that actually buy POD books and store them in their own warehouses. All those hordes of additional listings are just direct feeds from Ingram/Lightning. When Amazon and B&N say a book ships in 24 hours, they have a copy in the company's own warehouse. When they state 2-3 days, they have to get a copy from Ingram's warehouse. When the stated time is longer than 2-3 days, Ingram does not currently have a printed copy in their warehouse. One detail I have never been able to satisfactorily unravel is the matter or multiple Ingram warehouses. At one time it seemed that POD copies could be in certain, but not all, Ingram warehouses. Now it seems they are generally in the TN warehouse only. What's with the new 1-2 days statement at Amazon? I wish I knew. Is the book in a different Amazon warehouse? Is it in a different Ingram warehouse?

We all know there is an Ingram stock phone line? What is its direct relationship with AllDirect and NetStoreUSA, the only two sites from which I am aware that POD stock can be tracked online? It is possible that AllDirect tracks only stock in the TN Ingram warehouse, but NetStoreUSA tracks stock in all Ingram warehouses. Some of my research supports this theory, but some also refutes it.

I encourage anyone who wants to learn more information on this subject to join my New Authors Yahoo Group. The main purpose of the group is to disseminate and trade this type of information that seems to be so desired, yet so elusive.

Book Sales 2006 – (6/12/06 – Marketing)

Everyone go out and buy Ann Coulter's Godless! This has got to be the most honest, truthful, helpful, literary tome to come along in decades! After all, it is #1, isn't it?

If you want to sell books, you must make sure the writing is first-rate. Do all the research you possibly can before you submit your manuscript to the publisher. That includes double-checking all the facts and data that you plan to present. The next thing you want to do is to hire the best editor you can afford. All those aggravating little typos in your self-published or POD book will upset your readers. The final issue you want to address is the cover. Notice how the cover of Godless leaves no question what the book is about or what sort of person wrote it. The cover even features a nice photo of the attractive person who wrote the book. What more do you want?

We could hope for enlightenment without the ravings of a lunatic. We would like to think all that time we spent composing and editing our own books was not wasted. We would like to think that Americans would like to read how much more all Americans are alike than we are different. We could hope that the divisive nature of a corporate political system had already run its course. We would like to hope that there was a better America waiting in our future. We would like to feel good about America again, wouldn't we?

This whole concept has been a pipe dream of mine for many years now. I jokingly told someone recently that I write books because I am on a mission from God, the same God that sent The Blues Brothers on a mission. I suppose that is a true statement. Why else would I write the sort of books that I do? Certainly not for the dollars, the reviews, or the recognition, because I receive very little of any of those benefits. My books represent a ridiculous number of hours doing research, composing, editing, and designing covers. I bet many of yours do, too, and none of us are using God or religion for personal gain. I certainly am not. I say that I am on a mission from God because it is a Blues Brothers reference, and that is the type of material I write. I certainly mean no disrespect to this or any other deity. Many of us write for something other than money.

Ten Things POD Authors Should Remember – (1/13/07 – Publishing)

There are several common improvements or pitfalls, depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, of which any POD author should be aware.

As an iUniverse author and reviewer, I have discovered a number of issues that often block a POD author's attainment of perfection. Although I review iUniverse books, I am in no manner affiliated with the company. In fact, iU does not even acknowledge my existence as a prospective reviewer of their product. Presented here are ten, somewhat obvious, book production elements that all authors should consider before submitting their works to the publisher. These things that can only improve the resulting book are listed in the order in which the author is most likely to encounter them.

1. Consider the packages offered, and understand that there is no free lunch. Just because one company charges less up front does not make them the best deal in the long run. Most of the options and higher-level packages offered are not worth the asking prices. The retail price of your book at Amazon should be heavily weighted in your decision, as should the online availability details.

2. If you are computer literate and of an artistic bent, design your own cover. Understand that when the publisher does it for you, they are utilizing an assortment of photos and other graphic elements of which they have on hand. If you let them design your cover, sooner or later you may discover another book with the same photo that is on your book's cover! The presentation may be altered, but it will be the same photo nonetheless.

3. Don't shortchange your book of all the many extraneous elements you have been seeing in traditionally published books all your life. Include a photo of yourself, credits for the cover photo and/or design, Acknowledgements, Dedication, Afterword, Table of Contents, Glossary, Bibliography, etc. In other words, you have written a real book. Make it look like one.

4. Carerfully utilize your computer's spelling and grammar check of the entire document. Believe it or not, I have read iUniverse books, which seemed at least, as if the author had skipped this critical step.

5. Proofread the entire text more than once. The most effective method I have found is to have someone read the text along with you simultaneously. One or both of you must be in the computer document. The second person can be reading a printed copy. The only reason not to use the printed copy is the printing cost. Every author needs a cheap laser printer and a supply of junk paper on hand anyway. Yeah, I know, it's the laser cartridge that costs out the wazoo. That's why I said you can proofread more economically using two computers. Here is the important part: one person reads aloud and the other follows along silently. Only one person, and it does not matter which, is allowed to make changes to the manuscript during the process. You want to confuse yourself silly? Ignore this last rule.

6. Believe it or not, I have discovered that the most prevalent editing mistake made by iU authors is the deletion or repetition of the most common of common words. These are the mistakes that are most likely to slip by the proofing process described in #5. These mistakes are the result of two separate causes, so you want to watch out for both. The first is when the author has, at some point in the creative process, changed his mind about the sentence structure and forgotten to proofread the altered sentence. The second type is the result of the writer just buzzing along at warp speed in his typing, while not noticing that he used the common word twice or accidentally omitted it. My opinion is that our brains just buzz right past these boo-boos when we read anything, and the proofreading (of) our own precious babies is no exception. Here is a brief list of the words of which you should pay particular attention: the, of, have, had, a, an, and, is, was, etc. Get the picture?

7. This one should be obvious beyond belief, but I have encountered it in more than one iUniverse book. Write your name exactly the same way in and on every element of the book, its cover, the promo materials, and all subsequent books! Do you have any idea what not doing this does to the Amazon search mode for your books?

8. Be extremely cautious when you select your title, subtitle, and the way you state your name. If you want to be confused with another book or author, that's your business. If you want people to go straight to your book from Google or Amazon, that's also your business. The point is simply to know what you are doing before you do it. It's always a good idea to run a few practice searches just before submitting your book. This hint is placed late in the process for this reason. If you are Howard J. Smith, you never know when Howard K. Smith might have just released the worst book of the century!

9. Begin developing your promotional materials the day you submit the manuscript. If you have not already begun this process by this date, you are already handicapping yourself.

10. Begin your mailing list, whether by snail or email, as soon as your submission has been officially accepted. Remember that you don't have the luxury of pre-release promotional programs afforded to traditionally published books. The best you can do is make sure that the most potential buyers possible know about your book as soon as you are certain that the publication is a done deal.

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