Monday, February 27, 2017

Some Insights About Book Buying Habits

Take a minute and consider where you you bought your last few books. Was it in a brick and mortar bookstore? Did you buy them at an event or from an online retailer like Amazon? Was the book new or used?

As a long-term reader, I often purchase books. Last weekend I was at the third Writers on the Rock Conference and heard Allen Arnold speak.  For years, Arnold worked as an editor and publisher at Thomas Nelson Publishers and now he is working with best-selling author John Eldredge.  At the end of his keynote, Arnold mentioned his book, The Story of WITH which he sold for the discounted $10. I was interested to learn  Arnold self-published his book and I was glad to get an autographed copy and look forward to reading it.

This week I was talking with another long-term friend who is in publishing and he mentioned how he buys his books online from Amazon which offers choices whether to get a new book or a used version. We were talking about book buying habits because of the publishing news about Family Christian Bookstores closing 240 stores and over 3,000 employees losing their jobs. 

Several years ago, Family Christian Bookstores went into bankruptcy and had emerged from that situation. Publishers were the principal vendors who took a hit when Family Christian Bookstores went into bankruptcy.  One of the domino or related actions from this bankruptcy was the sale of Gospel Light. This family-owned publisher had a long-term history in the market and was sold to two different publishers.  Family Christian Bookstores owed Gospel Light $143,000. This debt was too large for Gospel Light to absorb and forced them into bankruptcy. The numbers of brick and mortar bookstores nationwide have been declining. Literary agent Steve Laube wrote more details about the closing of Family Christian in this article.

About four years ago when I lived in Arizona, a couple in my local church took part of their life savings and opened a Christian bookstore. It had several challenges from the beginning. While my friends had good motives, they did not come from a book or publishing background.  I knew way more about books, authors and the publishing business than they did. While eager to learn, they had a lot of ground to cover from a business perspective. Also the store was located in a shopping center and two doors from a well-known Hallmark store.  I often would drop by the nearby bookstore and talk with them and purchase things (if I needed them). Ultimately these friends closed their bookstore right about when I moved from Arizona. As I watched this store, it was an upfront and close lesson about some of the challenges of the brick and mortar retail business—and in particular in the Christian market.

A little off my topic but related: last week I went to Target to buy some blank audio cassette tapes for a new project. They didn't have any of them and were selling only one brand of tape recorder. Then I went to Office Depot who didn't have tapes in their store but said I could order them from their website online with free shipping. I ordered the tapes—only to have the online store cancel my order later in the day because the product wasn't available.[I don't know why I received a cancellation message because today the tapes showed up so I probably double ordered]. I attempted to buy this product at a brick and mortar store yet had to order it online from Amazon.

The book buying habits of consumers continue to change. Most of us have a smartphone in our pocket so wee can compare prices even standing in an actual store to see if we can get it less online. As I've written in these pages, the self-publishing world of books continues to increase (to the tune of over 5,000 new books every day—traditional and self-publishing combined). It's why every author has to continue to work on increasing their own audience (platform). Get my Platform Building Ideas for Every Author free ebook and use these ideas in your own writing.

In the comments below, let me know where you buy books. Book buying is a complex issue with no simple answers. All any author can do is offer your product in multiple formats (print, ebook, audio) and as many different venues as possible (online and brick and mortar). Our world is full of choices so you have to offer the consumer the broadest possible choices for your books.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When You Feel Like Giving Up

If we are honest, not every day in publishing is fun. Sometimes it feels like we are on one of those climbing walls and the way forward looks impossible. Yet even in those difficult days, I continue hitting the keyboard and cranking out words and stories. Other days I spend on the phone with authors or answering emails and questions about contracts or other issues.

Yet in the midst of the opportunities or challenges, I continue helping authors create new books through my work as an acquisitions editor. I continue to write for new blogs or magazines and working on my social media and growing my own measure of influence in the marketplace.  I continue the work because I believe in the life-changing effects of books. I know that first hand as I explained in this short video several years ago:

Often we can't see the results of our writing and how it is affecting others. Recently I was listening to actress Lauren Graham's memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can. I enjoyed this story she told about bestselling author James Patterson. Graham was in Atlanta and about to begin filming Middle School, based on the books by Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. At the cast dinner, Graham was seated next to Patterson. She turned and asked him a question that he had probably been asked many times, “How do you do it?”

“He turned to and said, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.”

I found this story encouraging that even  mega-bestselling author like James Patterson has to use this mantra of keep going. Each of face different curve balls along the publishing journey. Maybe your editor leaves the publishing house and you have to work with a different editor. Maybe your publishing house closes or gets sold to another publisher. Maybe you face an unexpected family crisis of health or any number of other situations. The challenges of life are plenty for everyone and enough for some people to throw in the towel and not move forward.

From my experience and listening to numerous stories from bestselling authors, the people who succeed and write their bestseller or find their best publishing opportunity, are the ones who keep going.  Many authors give up too early in the process and do not keep looking for the right publisher at the right time and the right place.

As someone who has been studying about publishing for many years, admittedly there is a lot to learn for every writer. You need to learn how to craft a pitch to an editor or a literary agent. You need to learn how to write excellent stories and then do the long-term work of telling people about your book (marketing).

I love the advice best-selling author Harvey MacKay gave in this recent article called Never Give Up. MacKay gives terrific specific details in this article and then he always has a summary statement that he calls a MacKay Moral: The hardest sale you'll ever make is to yourself.  But once you're convinced you can do it, you can.

When you face the bump in the road of your writing life, I encourage you to keep going.


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Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Self-Publishing Is NOT "Easy"

Publishing a book has never been easier. Almost everyone has a keyboard and a computer with the ability to crank in words and produce a manuscript—whether nonfiction or fiction. Authors struggle to find a literary agent and a traditional publishing deal. They get tired of crafting an excellent product, the waiting, and the rejection letters. Instead they decide to self-publish because that direction looks easy.

For over 20 years, I've been reading about publishing, writing and working in this business as an editor and writer. I encourage you to read this recent article from Jane Friedman, former editor at Writer's Digest and publishing expert. I want to quote a brief section of Friedman's article:

“Back in 2012, there were many headlines about the tremendous growth in self-publishing output as demonstrated by the increase in ISBNs used by indie authors.
Since then, Bowker—the agency that issues ISBNs in the United States—has continued to release annual stats that still show growth in the sector, but these numbers always come with important caveats, including:
  • Bowker’s figures don’t reflect all of the self-publishing activity out there. They can’t count books that don’t have ISBNs, and a considerable volume of self-pub titles are published and distributed without ISBNs.
  • Bowker’s counts are for ISBNs, not book titles. A single book title may use several ISBNs (e.g., one for the print edition, another for the ebook edition, and so on).
According to Bowker, ISBNs for self-published titles in 2015 reached 727,125, up from 599,721 in 2014, representing a 21% increase in one year. The increase since 2010 is 375%.
But I think more important is where the growth occurred. Bowker’s numbers indicate more authors are using Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is free to use; older, fee-based self-publishing services are falling out of favor. Here’s a selected glimpse (again, remember these are ISBN counts coming out of each service per year):
  • CreateSpace titles in 2010: 35,693
  • CreateSpace titles in 2015: 423,718 (+1,087%)
  • Author Solutions titles in 2010: 41,304
  • Author Solutions titles in 2015: 23,930 (-42%)
The only area of Author Solutions’ business that saw an ISBN increase in 2015 is WestBow, the Christian self-publishing imprint marketed through Thomas Nelson. Note that Penguin Random House, which used to own Author Solutions, sold it off in January 2016, unloading what was probably seen as an albatross.”
Are these statistics a surprise to you? 

The increase of over 1,000% percent on CreateSpace was startling.If you publish through CreateSpace, your book is only on Amazon and not available in other formats.
If you decide to self-publish, understand several facts: First, you are establishing a world-wide sales record of your publishing efforts. Traditional publishers and literary agents look at this information to decide if they are going to publish your next book or take you on as a client. Second, you are in complete control of your work which may feel easier but also you are responsible for all the details of the book creation (excellent cover design, well-written writing, distribution and sales).
Yes the creation of books has never been easier. Here's the reality that few people will tell you: making the book is easy but getting people to purchase the book will take hard work and persistent effort. If you have developed relationships with people in your target market and connect with them often. More specifically if you connect to your audience through an email list and speaking to them face to face, then yes you can sell your book.
No matter what I write, a number of you are going to take the leap into self-publishing. Here's several action steps if you go this route:
1. Work with an experienced editor to create an excellent book.
2. Work with professional cover designers and people to format and produce a book where every detail looks like something from one of the big five traditional publishers. This means including elements like endorsements and words on the spine of the book (including a publishing logo on the bottom of that spine).
3. Keep working consistently to grow your audience. Get my free ebook, Platform-Building Ideas for Every Author and trying new avenues to market and sell your book.
4. Continue to learn all you can about publishing. Get a copy of my Book Proposals That Sell and study the publishing insights in this book.
5. Never give up on your book. As the author, you have the greatest interest and passion for your book. This statement is true no matter whether you are traditionally published or self-publish. Always be looking for new opportunities to write or speak about your book.
This last point is something that I try and model with my own books. For example, in the header of my twitter profile, you see my Book Proposals That Sell book which is only available from me. My Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams book is in my bio for my recent Southern Writer magazine column. And finally, I continue to do radio interviews for my Billy Graham biography which came out over two years ago. Just follow this link to see some of the recent interviews and listen to them.
Have you self-published? Was it a good experience and “easy?” I look forward to reading your comments. 

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Monday, February 06, 2017

Three Reasons to Find and Join a Local Writer's Group

Writing is a solitary profession.  You sit down at your keyboard, put your fingers on the keys and write words which turn into stories. As I've written about in the Writing Life, getting published can be fairly easy. You can publish the material online in a blog or any number of other ways such as wattpad. The challenge is far greater than getting it out into the market. The real challenge is finding readers who will rave about your work and tell others.

Many years ago, when I was beginning my days in publishing, I saw the value of connections to other writers. I lived in Southern California and was one of the founding board members of the Orange County Christian Writers. At the time, I worked in the U.S. headquarters for Wycliffe Bible Translators and the group met twice a year in our building—so it was convenient for me to attend the meetings. I helped set up the room the day before our Saturday session. Also through this group, I got involved in a writer's critique group.

Every writer's group needs volunteers. These groups are run on a shoe-string budget and volunteers are critical for the group to succeed and continue.  As a volunteer, I was able to contribute to the group, but I also received and learned more from the experience. It's the first reason that every writer needs to find and join a local writer's group: increase your personal growth as a writer.

A local writer's group also provides the opportunity for inexpensive training (the second reason). For many of the large conferences, you have to travel on a plane, pay conference fees, etc. in a local setting you can learn a great deal and lower your expenses.  While it was years ago, many of the speakers I met at those Orange County Christian Writers meetings are still active in the publishing world. The foundation of my relationship with these individuals started in a local writer's group.

Also in a local writer's group, you have the opportunity discover what others are writing and where they are finding opportunities to get published. As you meet new people and listen to what they are writing, these experiences can open new doors of opportunity in your own writing life. Maybe you've never thought about writing an opinion editorial for the local newspaper or writing for a compilation book like Chicken Soup for the Soul or ______. Yet as you hear what others are doing, it opens your mind and heart to new possibilities.

In the bold type, I've highlighted three reasons to find and join a local writer's group. There are many different types of local groups. If you are not in a group, I encourage you to look for one (use google) or look for a local chapter of a national writer's organization.

Last year, I learned the Nonfiction Authors Association was expanding their local chapter program. When I looked at the various locations, there was no chapter meeting in Colorado (nothing). I filled out an online form and volunteered to start the South Denver Chapter (really the only Colorado NAA chapter). I found a place to meet and we've had about half a dozen meetings. If you live in Colorado, I encourage you to check our home page—but especially begin attending the monthly meetings (the third Wednesday of every month). Each meeting will have a speaker on a different nonfiction topic.

No matter where you live, I encourage you to join the Nonfiction Authors Association. The basic membership is FREE.  Every writer can profit and grow from being involved in a local writer's group. Are you active in a local writer's group? Tell me about it in the comments below.

If you don't have a local writer's group, you can always start one—like I did last year.

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