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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Eleven

Number Eleven

Most Promo Companies Only Promote Themselves

This is not aimed at all promotional companies…just most of them. It is also not aimed at any particular company or companies…just general observations and comments.

What is it that most of the promotional companies do? In a nutshell, they send out notices about your book…most of them just shotgun a message about your book to the many Yahoo (and Google) groups on a periodic basis. A few will post to the several social media systems like FaceBook and Twitter. The exact details vary, but not by much. This is basically all the services do, and they only do that for one particular book at a time from a client. Some offer package deals that cover several books.

There are a number of problems with this…

First of all, they do nothing that you, the author, can’t do. And you, the author, can do it better. We’ll be coming back to this.

Second, they focus only on one book. See Rule Number Seven. There is a ton of money just sitting there on your backlist.

And thirdly, all of the promo companies work on a fee-based system.

Now that we have the three main problems identified, let’s talk about them. Because the problems are all interrelated, I’m going to just move forward. As we go, you will see the problems crop up and how we can better deal with them.

I know you’ve seen the messages on Yahoo groups from the promo services. They are always from something like, “Billy Bob Promotions”. Yeah, everyone else sees that, too. The subject may be something like, “Read Mary’s New Book!” A brief survey of the members of two of the largest Romance/Erotica Romance Yahoo groups found that just over 85% of the readers have either email filters set up to move messages from the promo companies directly to the trash bin or they just delete these messages without reading them. In other words, of the people you want to see these messages, only about 15% of them even bother. The same thing applies on the social media networks…most readers don’t even bother to read the posts, let alone follow any links in them.

The real problem here is that the readers see the posts from the promo company as spam. I can understand that, because it is indeed spam. So, how do we get the readers to actually read the posts? Simple…the posts should come from the author of the book.

There are two ways to make this happen…

First, the author can send out the posts. Most all email programs will allow you to send an email at a later date and time you select, either built in or as an add-on helper application. The same thing applies for the social media networks…TweetDeck, HootSuite, and others allow you to schedule posts. The author picks a day and sets aside time on that day to write and schedule posts as appropriate. When the posts are sent, they are coming from the author, and readers tend to actually read those kinds of posts.

The other option is—in my opinion—better…the promo services should be posting as the author. This of course means that the promo company needs access to the author’s email and social media accounts. This entails a good deal of trust and some sort of assurance from the promotional service that the access will not be abused. This way of doing things lets the author focus on writing while the promo company does the promotion, just as things should be.

Next, the promo services should promote the author, not just one book. This is very similar to the idea of agents versus representatives as discussed in Rule Number Five. Just as you need a representative who will represent you as a whole, you need a promotional service who will promote you as a whole. Single title representation or promotion is a waste of time and money. By promoting the author, you make sales on the current title as well as on the backlist.

And now we come to the money shot…all of the promo companies work on a fee-based system. That is to say, you pay $x and they promote your book for a certain amount of time. The promo company has no skin in the game under this program and fee schedule. They get paid no matter what happens.

In the real world, advertising agencies are paid a combination of a flat fee plus a commission on sales. Why not in the world of publishing? Well, to be fair, that is the way it works in the print world, but the author is more or less out of that loop…the publishers will hire an advertising firm to do a campaign, and that deal will include a cut of sales to the ad agency. It doesn’t work that way in the E-Book arena, though. Why not?

Without a performance-based pay scale, the promotional company has no vested interest in making the ad campaign work. They are simply accountable to do the number of posts to the places they say they will make them to, and nothing more. There is no method in place to make sure that the campaign will actually work. This leads to cookie-cutter campaigns where they all look alike with only the names changed. There is no innovation or encouragement to make the campaign better.

What would fix this is a commission schedule. The promo company gets a flat fee for the up-front work of preparing the campaign, and then they get a percentage of the sales made during the campaign. This puts some of their skin in the game, and their income is now based on their performance.

Next, we need to talk about the difference between e-publishers and print publishers. Very few epubs do any promotion at all beyond generic advertising featuring all of their releases in a given time frame. A few go beyond that and will post group or social media messages for specific books, but not too many do that. On the other hand, print publishers often take out full-page ads in magazines and major newspapers to promote single titles. In general, epubs do almost no promotion while the print houses might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. (There are some exceptions…a few of the larger epubs are starting to take out some ads.)

Lastly, let’s tie this all back to Rule Number Five…

The real representatives out there provide not only the normal services of traditional agents, and the editing services to get a manuscript ready to pitch to a publisher, but they also provide promotional services. Some of these representatives offer this as part of their standard package and others offer it as an add-on at additional percentage points, but almost all do offer it.

Most of these representatives do this promotion acting as the author…that is they post from the author’s email and from the author’s social media accounts. They know that readers pay far more attention to the author “talking” than to some promotional company spamming. Also, since most of the representatives are working on a percentage of royalty commission, the better the ad campaign is, the more money they make. In other words, they have skin in the game.

With all of the above said, there is no doubt that most authors need someone to help them with promotion. An author’s time is better spent writing their books rather than running amok posting messages and updates to promote their books.

The thing is, where do you get the most bang for the buck?

Look at the promotional companies carefully and assess what they can do for you and if their services are actually going to help you.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 15 SEP 2020

Here’s today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Are there any teachers you particularly disliked in school?

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Ten

Number Ten

Generally Speaking, Writing Experts Aren’t

I want you to think about something totally unrelated to writing for a minute…

How many people are there professing they are “experts” in social media or search engine optimization (SEO) or various other subjects related to online marketing? Millions? More?

Why are there so many? Because there is a created market for them with the explosive growth in social media and search engine use.

Now, back to writing…

How many people are there out on the Internet claiming to be “experts” at teaching you how to write? Hundreds of thousands? More? And many of these so-called experts are colleges and universities (some very well known) trying to cash in on the wave.

Why are there so many? Because there is a created market for them due to the explosive growth of self-publication from Amazon and other places.

Yeah…everyone thinks they are an author. Many (but by no means all) are just bad writers who self-publish because a real publisher won’t touch them with a ten-foot pole.

Most of the so-called writing experts are failed writers. Not only were they unable to get published, they couldn’t make a living being self-published. They are hacks at best and con-artists at worst.

Think about it…

If they know so much about writing and are so good at it and they can make so much money writing, why aren’t they writing?


You know the answer.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 08 SEP 2020

Today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question is:

Do you have a day job as well?

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Nine

Number Nine

Final Drafts Are Still Pretty Rough

OK, maybe they’re REALLY rough.

No matter how carefully you read your manuscript, there will be errors. Grammar, spelling, syntax, and all of the rest will creep in and entrench the errors so deep that you, as the writer, can’t even see them. Logic and flow errors are even worse.

The reason for this is very simple, and my great grandma summed it up nicely when she said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”

In other words, you are too close.

Get people to read your manuscript. For grammar, spelling, and other mechanical issues, anyone with a reasonable grasp of high school level English will do. Even family will work.

For logic and flow, for God’s sake do NOT use a family member or close friend! They will ignore problems because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, even if the problem is glaring. Find someone who will be totally honest with you, even if it hurts.

If you have a representative, they will have editors who will help you, and they will be brutally honest with you. Trust me, that’s gonna hurt. And it will leave a mark…a mark that you will remember and help you grow and become a better writer.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 01 SEP 2020

Let’s lighten things up a little with today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Do you prefer fuzzy or tube socks?

Keep Loving!

The Psychology of Writing

The Psychology of Writing

Take a look at this list of names:

Penelope Delta, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Andrews, Kurt Cobain, Eleanor Marx, Sylvia Plath, John O’Brien, Len Doherty, Charles Williams, Ernst Toller, and Myrtle Reed.

Some of the names may be at least a little familiar to you. A few should be well known to almost everyone. And a few others are pretty obscure.

These eleven people have two things in common. Did you catch it without looking them up?

All eleven are writers from the past.

And all eleven died by committing suicide.

This is, sadly, only a tiny subset of a rather long list of authors, poets, and other literary professionals who have died at their own hand. When you add in other people in the creative arts (musicians, painters, sculptors, performers, etc.), the list gets very long indeed.

But I’m mostly focused on the authors here.

Most studies of suicidal behavior among writers seem to settle on a figure around an author being about twice as likely to kill themselves than random people from the general, non-writing population. Very few studies give a smaller number, but a good number of researchers put the rate at four or more times more likely to commit suicide.

Then there is the idea of risk taking behavior. This can be things like hobbies others consider risky (I myself skydive and ride motorcycles, usually much faster than is prudent), drug and/or alcohol abuse (I have a long history of IV drug abuse), sexual promiscuity (no comment), and more. A large number of writers who don’t actually kill themselves tend to follow these kinds of habits, and when you get right down to the brass tacks, drinking, drugging, and the rest are really just slow ways to commit suicide.

Over the years, many psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, and others have tried to explain why authors are so at risk, but the results are usually little more than speculation and anecdotal. You’ll frequently see attempts to link the creative thought process to depression. This is, at best, a poor correlation or, at worst, an effort to cook the data to make it fit the premise of the researcher. The simple fact is, no one really knows why writers are far more likely to take their own life.

I personally have attempted suicide twice in my life, once when I was 16 and had been a professionally published author for only two years, and again when I was 26 with more than a decade of writing under my belt. In both cases, I overdosed on heroin and I was lucky enough to be found by people who cared enough to save me.

I also, as mentioned above, indulge in risky hobbies. I never got into fast cars because I found out early that a $7,000 motorcycle can go faster than a $250,000 car. I gave up the motorcycles for my family after I got married. I still, however, skydive. All of my jumps today are routine, regular jumps at reasonable speeds and from aircraft designed for jumping. I have, in the past, jumped from less, shall we say, friendly aircraft…like a B-29 bomber, a 727 airliner, and a 12 passenger corporate jet. None of those are even close to a good idea.

As for the drugs, one never really ever quits…you just exist on a sliding continuum of recovery. I can say that I’ve been drug-free for just shy of 15 years now. Do I still get cravings? You bet I do. Fact is, I love my family more than I love the horse.

I have never considered myself to be depressed. Yes, like everyone else on the planet, I have had some episodes of situational depression during rough periods in my life, but nothing that fits the DSM criteria of major depression. And those two suicide attempts…all I can say is that I don’t think I was depressed then. Death simply seemed like the path of least resistance at the time.

So why do we authors do this sort of thing? Is it some new form of depression not yet well understood? Is it that the voices in our heads really will kill us if given the chance? Or maybe, just maybe, is there some odd virus that makes us write but will kill us in the end?

I don’t know the answer. Why should I? I have a BA in psychology, but much brighter people than I also don’t know the answer.

What I do know is that all writers need to look at themselves closely.

Are you depressed? If so, seek help. I want to warn you about something here…many colleagues of mine have been depressed and sought help. That help today is in the form of one (or more) antidepressant medications and very little or even no counseling. The problem is that for many writers, the drugs will take the edge off their writing. Most will stop the medications on their own. In other words, they will choose writing while depressed over not writing while happy and accept the idea that they may very well die. What you need is counseling to help you change your thought patterns. You need the medication to get through the crisis, but then psychotherapy to deal with the underlying cause. If you are not willing to give up writing, make sure the mental health professionals know this so they can do what’s needed.

Are you drinking and/or drugging too much? See above. Sometimes, a group like AA or NA can be of more benefit than an MD or PhD.

Do you engage in risky behaviors? If so, really look at things. Are you doing so because you really enjoy it or is it just a complicated suicide attempt? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

My goal here is to educate you to the simple fact that, as an author, you are at a significantly higher risk for suicide. The reasons why that is, while essentially unknown, are really not important. What is important is that you know.

Knowledge is, after all, power.

And you have the power to avoid becoming another statistic by being aware of your actions and taking steps to mitigate the risks.

Please…I don’t want to see your name on that list above.

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Eight

Number Eight

Don’t Fear The Editors

This Rule is a rough one for most writers, no matter if they are a seasoned professional author with decades in the business or if they are a new writer struggling with their first story. Editors can be intimidating, and that’s a good thing.

It is the editor—at least the good ones—who will push the writer to make the story better. From the line editor looking for grammatical and spelling errors to the content editor looking for continuity and logic in the story, they all have the aim of making your story the best it can be. In order to do that job right, they must be critical and on the offensive all of the time.

Over the years, I’ve come to know that the quality of the editor is directly proportional to the amount of red ink on my manuscript when I get it back. I know I’m not perfect, and I have never written the perfect manuscript. There are always errors, always problems, and the more of those the editor finds and flags the better they did their job.

Many new writers see the relationship between them and the editor as one of an adversarial nature, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a cooperative relationship, one where the writer and editor are a team working towards the common goal of producing a story that will sell. We have the same objective in mind…to entertain the reader and to sell books.

The editor is not there to rewrite the story. They are there to help the writer find mistakes and to make the story clear and concise. And this can lead to a potential problem…

In the print world, editors very rarely write stories at all. They are editors and that is that. In the world of E-Books, editors are often also writers. These people write their own books, and also work editing the stories of other writers to supplement their income.

And the print world has it right…

By and large, editors are terrible writers, and writers are terrible editors. Why is that?

A writer will tend to let their own voice drift into the works of others as they do an edit. It’s not a deliberate thing, it just happens. As a writer edits the work of another, that little voice that all writers hear will keep saying things like, “…I would say it this way instead…” and it all starts to blend together. I have seen this in numerous E-Books…in the middle of a paragraph, someone else takes over the writing for a few lines.

In similar fashion, an editor trying to write will typically end up with something that, while mechanically and technically correct, will sound stiff and stilted. That is to say that their voice ends up sounding like the style manuals and grammar textbooks.

Editors and writers are two different skill sets, both important to the final product.

I suppose it’s possible to have both skill sets in one person, but the danger for cross-talk between the two functions would be high. Of the tens of thousands of writers and thousands of editors I know, there is exactly one person I know can do both tasks. And it isn’t me!

Writers should not be afraid of the editors. They are there to help the writer and in most cases they succeed.

And this is where things come down to the brass tacks…

If the editor suggests a change, really think about it. If the change makes sense and makes the story better IN THE OPINION OF THE WRITER, then make the change. If not, then reject the change. Don’t be afraid to tell the editor “no”.

It is YOUR story, not theirs. It is YOUR voice, not theirs.

See Rule Number Twenty-One as well.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 25 AUG 2020

Here’s the Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today:

Are any of your published stories based on events in your own life?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Seven

Number Seven

Never Underestimate The Power Of The Backlist

As frightening as it might be, some writers don’t even know what the backlist is. So, let me quote from Wikipedia…

A backlist is a list of older books available from a publisher, as opposed to titles newly published (sometimes called the front list).

Building a strong backlist has traditionally been seen as the way to produce a profitable publishing house, as the most expensive aspects of the publishing process have already been paid for and the only remaining expenses are reproduction costs. A strong backlist is also a form of The Long Tail in modern business plans.

“The backlist is the financial backbone of the book industry, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of the average publisher’s sales,” wrote The New York Times. “Current titles, known as the front list, are often a gamble: they can become best sellers, but they are much more likely to disappear in a flood of returns from bookstores. By contrast, backlist books usually have predicable sales and revenues.”

While this definition is aimed at publishers, the same thing apply to writers…the backlist is a great source of steady revenue. Also, a new release will usually lead to spike in sales of backlist titles.

The lesson to be learned here is that you should always talk up and promote your backlist. Just because a book was released five years ago, that does not mean that there is no more money to be made from that title. Talk about it, spread the word, get readers interested, and convince them to buy that old book.

Every dime you make from the sale of a backlist title is a dime you didn’t have yesterday.

Keep Loving!