December 27, 2014

Where’s the Sequel? and Advertising Woes



It’s difficult for an OCD-type such as myself to admit it, but I’m late again. I had intended to have written and released the third book in The Gossamer Sphere series by now, but I’ve only just begun writing it. For those readers waiting, I humbly apologize. It WILL come out eventually.

Why have I dropped the ball? Well, I have some pretty compelling personal reasons, but since I’ve mostly outgrown the over-sharing tendencies of my youth, I won’t trot those out. Instead, I thought I’d ramble on a bit about advertising and how it has affected me, as a writer who enjoys the occasional meal of Top Ramen but prefers not to subsist off of it.

First off, Captain Obvious is tapping me on the shoulder. He’d like to point out that nothing is free, especially not advertising.

Not anymore.

Not long ago, Facebook was free. I created my Author Page there, a happy little place where I could blithely update my fans on upcoming releases, etc. In hindsight, those were the good old days. It was a truly good time to be online. But then Facebook decided to limit what posts our fans saw unless we paid to promote them. That, too, was okay, because I knew my fans could always pop over to my page if they wanted to know the latest.

Now Facebook is rumored to be planning further monetization changes that will restrict or ban entirely anything they deem to be advertising. So my fans will have no way of knowing what I’m up to. Unless, of course, I pay for it.

Something to look forward to in 2015, apparently.

Anyhoo, advertising:

If I want my books to sell, I have to invest more than just the usual blood/sweat/tantrums of the actual writing/editing/formatting process. That’s right, I need to market them. I’ve blogged about this before, ad nauseam. Since I’m only one person, blahblahblah, with limited capacity to market my work online, blahblahblah, I have to pay someone to advertise for me.

The process sounds cut and dried (payment for service), but it really isn’t.
In the real world, a business pays to have an advertisement placed in a publication, whether it be a physical paper or online webzine. Unless that business is offensive to the publication (like, say, a brothel attempting to advertise in a religious journal), the deal is likely to go through. In Indie Author Land, not so simple a matter. Because even though we are each of us individual small-business-persons, we are collectively lumped together.

And, as it happens, some find our lump offensive.

I’ll use, for example, a new business model that developed on the heels of the ereader/ebook explosion: the Discount Mailing List. Here’s how it works: Publishers and Authors pay to be included in a daily email that goes out to a mailing list bursting with eager Readers. The books in question must be steeply discounted or free to be included. More on this later.

So here we have these (shrewd, shrewd) Discount Mailing List entrepreneurs whose businesses were at least in part built on the backs of indie authors. Say what? Well, I won’t go so far as to suggest they lured us in with a classic bait and switch, but we indies wanted our books to be included, so we signed up in droves, plumping up their mailing lists. At some point they got enough Readers to attract the attention of the big boys, traditional publishing (tradpub).

Once tradpub was on board, the crafty Discount Mailing List folks could pick and choose who they offered their service to. Indie authors, in general, were no longer good enough for their discerning Readers. Bookbub, for instance, accepts or rejects a book based on their “editorial team’s” determination of worthiness. Do they actually read it? No, silly, they don’t have time for that business, nor do they have time to explain why you were rejected. However, since they have your email address, you’re welcome to console yourself perusing the daily list of books that were worthy.

If you’re lucky enough to get accepted, however, Discount Mailing Lists are effective, even though you’ll be forced to steeply discount your book, or even give it away for free in order to use the service.

Wait a minute! Did I not just claim above in this very essay that nothing is free?

My mistake.

Because my work has been free on multiple occasions. I have no choice; the competition for Readers is fierce. Authors, indie and otherwise, are in a constant elbow fight, jostling for space on the Amazon lists, one of the only places where we can be SEEN. In the case of the indie, our best chance of getting on those lists is to give our product away for free, and to exhaustively advertise the event. It’s ironic that we literally have to pay Readers to take our work. But if they like the free sample, they just might come back for more, and that’s why we do it.

Certainly not because we’re making money hand over fist at this writing lark.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say the vast majority of indie authors, if you were to calculate payment for hours worked, bring in well below the minimum wage. Personally, on my best sales year, had it been my only income, I would have been forced to beg on the street to feed and house my family. And I know several indie authors – really good writers, mind you – who envied me that sales income.

This negative return on investment tends to wear a writer down, but I won’t quit. I’ll try to keep my sense of humor intact and resist bemoaning the futility of it all. It might take longer for me to work up the old enthusiasm, but at the very least I’ll finish The Gossamer Sphere.

Not for the money, but for my fans.

Because they rock.

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