Category Archives: Kim May

Kim May

Indie Bookstores: The Untapped Resourse

A lot of the indie authors I know distribute online and only online. And why shouldn’t they? It’s easy, it’s cheap, and that’s where a large percentage of the market is. However, that still leaves the rest of the book-buying market. Where are they purchasing? Well, most of that remaining section of the market shops at brick and mortar stores and while this seems like it’s an insignificant portion of the market, when done right, it can become your largest market. However, it can be difficult to get into the brick-and-morter market. Chains like Barnes and Noble or Powell’s can be tricky to get into. B&N requires indies to jump through a lot of hoops and at Powell’s you pretty much have to know someone on the inside to get them to stock an indie title. But indie bookstores are usually a lot more approachable and using them to reach more readers can get you access to almost all of the book buying market.

Before I go into the how, I want to apologize because this is a topic I could write pages and pages about so it’s going to be more of an overview because I don’t have the space on this forum to really go in depth. Hopefully in the future I can talk more about the specifics. It’s also going to focus on the small, single location indie bookstores since the big chains can be problematic. I also want to acknowledge that not every indie author will see this route as a good option for them. It is more work — and it is work that takes you away from creating the next masterpiece — and there are a few hoops to jump through. If you’re making a considerable amount from online sales the extra work may not be worth it to you. For me, it has been worth it. For every book (both digital and print) I sell online, I sell three print copies in indie bookstores. Seriously. My sales ratio really is 3:1. Now granted, I’ve been working at an indie bookstore for twenty years so I do have an advantage in getting my books on local store shelves but it’s not hard for everyone else to do it too.

The first, and probably most important, is to have a relationship with the store’s staff. If you shop there, and the staff know your face, they will be more willing to take on your book — even if it’s a genre that they normally don’t sell. It’s easier to justify taking a risk on a book from someone you know, than a complete stranger. If there isn’t an indie store near you, I do realize that this may not be possible. But if there is, it’s worth the time investment to go every once and a while to browse and develop that relationship.

The second is to know your book’s primary genre and gear your pitch and promotional materials (sell sheet, bookmarks, etc.) toward that. Say that your book is historical fiction with a touch of fantasy and mystery and your back copy emphasizes all genre elements of all three. That makes it impossible for staff to know where to shelve it or what kind of readers to suggest it to, which makes it nearly impossible to sell. If you focus on the single most prevalent genre for your back copy, branding, and promotional materials it’s going to make it a lot more appealing to the store and a lot easier to sell. Another thing to be aware of and use to your advantage is popular authors who have similar title and your alsobots. One of the indie titles my store carries is a historical novel in the same vein of Jane Kirkpatrick — one of our top selling authors. I put a note on the cover encouraging Jane Kirkpatrick fans to check out this indie title and it’s been flying off the shelf ever since.

When you’re ready to ask them about carrying your book there’s a lot of information you need them to give you. Do they buy the book directly from you or consign? A lot of stores won’t order from Createspace and Ingram isn’t very good about accurately displaying information for Sparks titles so don’t be surprised if they want you to be the distributor. You also need to know for what length of time they’ll carry it. If they consign, what is the payment percentage? Do they pay 40% of the list price? 50%? More? When do they pay you for sold copies? Will they contact you if they restock and when will that happen? When the last copy sells or at the end of the consignment period? Will they let you reclaim unsold stock? Do they require you to pay a consignment/stocking fee? Who is the main contact person? Do they do in-store book signings and/or readings? All of these things are going to vary from store to store so if they have a print out of their policy be sure to get one for your records so you can keep track.

Be sure to promote on your website and social media that the store is carrying your book. If you’re doing a signing/reading, promote that too. Don’t do it just once either. Post reminders during the holidays that your book makes a great gift and they can buy it online AND at the local bookstore. Let it gradually sink into the public’s mind that they don’t have to wait a day or five for the Amazon Fairy to deliver a print copy. They can buy it at the local store and read it now!

Once all of that is done you can usually kick back, relax, and resume writing the next tome. Some stores might require a little more follow through and some periodical check ins but the hard, laborious, slightly scary part is over. Even if indie stores turn out to be only a small portion of your overall sales, it never hurts to have your books in another part of the market. The more people you reach, the more you can sell.

Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit

Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement (and I’m not just talking about word count). It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fiftieth, it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders knowing that the first draft is done. Well, at least it is until you remember that now you have to do revisions and edits.

In my experience, starting all that tough, nit-picky work so soon after finishing the draft isn’t good for you. If I dive back in so soon I get sick of my own work, and sometimes even resent it for depriving me of the time to watch the backlog of shows on my DVR or the cool new thing on Netflix. The last thing I want to happen, is for me to hate my own work for something so petty — especially after all the hard work I put into it. That’s why I treat myself to two things after the completion of the first draft. The first is a tangible treat that somehow ties in to something I love about that particular story. Sometimes it’s a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and sometimes it’s a piece of clothing or art. What’s the second thing?

Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing.

After finishing the first draft I give myself permission to not write or do any other work on that draft for one week. During that week I can veg on the couch and watch as many shows and movies as I want. I can also read as many books in my bedside stack as I want. The obvious reason for this is that I can’t resent my work for keeping me from watching the new season of Forged in Fire if I’ve already watched it. I can’t be tempted by the new lovely in my reading stack if I’ve already read it. Plus the growing backlog of episodes, and the growing stack of awesome books, become the carrots that are dangled before me while I’m working on that initial draft.

The less obvious reason is that it allows the creative side of my brain to rest and renew while the more studious side of my brain can pick apart the plots of the shows and books I’m partaking of. It’s hard, especially after taking one of Dave Wolverton’s writing courses, to turn my brain completely off when taking in a story. It doesn’t matter if the medium is visual, audio, or printed. I can’t stop myself from poking a metaphorical finger at other people’s plot holes, or admiring some great pacing and then reviewing that section over and over to figure out exactly how they did it. So my vacation suddenly becomes an educational experience that can improve my own writing. Yay!

Okay. I realize that it probably looks like a cheat to be studying someone else’s writing when I’m taking a break from writing. Well, it’s not. The break is from my own writing. Besides, heaven forbid I resent my vacation from writing for keeping me from doing the writerly things that I love. If the studious side of my writer brain is busy looking for tropes and Chekov’s arsenal, the rest of me can enjoy the break without conflict.

I also find that one week is the perfect length of time. I can make a noticeable dent in the backlog of stories to partake of, but it’s not so long a break that my readers start to wonder if I’ll ever truly finish my next book.

It can be a tricky balance to maintain — sacrificing for your work without hating the necessity of making sacrifices — but it can be maintained. For me this is one of the small ways I can maintain that balance while preventing burn out. In the spirit of Your Miles May Vary, a shorter or longer interval may work better for you. Instead of TV it may be gaming that you need the break for. I know authors who write short stories between drafting and editing as their break/treat. Whatever works best for you. Burn out and self-resentment are terrible things that have destroyed too many writing careers. It’s important to know what treat you respond best to and to use that to maintain a healthy balance that will keep you engaged and interested in the work now and in the years to come.

When Your System Isn’t Enough

A few months ago I wrote about how I outline my novels. If you missed it you can find it here. I’ve used this process for multiple novels and it has yet to let me down. Well, as I worked on the second book on my series I realized that there is one thing that this format doesn’t allow for: seeing the big picture.

Normally I’m only working on one novel and only one novel so it’s pretty easy to keep the big picture in my mind as I work. But I realized that with this series I’m not writing just one book. (I know. I’m a genius.) I was having problems figuring out how to pace the character arcs throughout the series. How far was too far? I can’t let them progress too quickly. That doesn’t make for a satisfying ending. But if I go to slowly I have to rush it and that’s not satisfying to the reader either.

The obvious solution is to outline the rest of the series. While that would work it wasn’t something I can do. I know my subconscious. If I outlined every book my pesky subconscious would come up with something awesome that would change the course of the rest of the series. I’m not going to go to all of that effort if I’m going to have to redo it later. I was really at a loss for how to proceed. So I sat down with one of my awesome mentors and talked it over with them (Thanks, Diana!). At her suggestion I wrote out what I knew had to happen for each of the remaining books — and I do mean everything. Plot, twists, and character development. Okay, I know some of you are thinking, why did I plot out the books when I didn’t want to do that. Well, I didn’t. I plotted out the pieces that I knew had to happen to bring about my desired ending. For some of them I only have five notes but it was something and in the end it helped.

(Yes, Sergeant Schlock is shooting Sailor Moon.)

In order to better visualize what I had I used 3X5 cards in different colors. Each POV character got their own color card. What you see above is the outline cards for book two. I wrote on each card what that character accomplished in that particular chapter — whether it was plot related or a personal development or both. Once I had everything that I knew in front of me it was pretty easy to put events in order and figure out what books those events needed to happen in. When my subconscious surprises me, and I have no doubt that it will, I’ll just add new cards to reflect those changes in the later books and put them in their place.

I’m very much a creature of habit. Especially where my writing is concerned but sometimes new challenges can get me out of that rut, and bring new, helpful techniques into my life. I never thought of myself as a visual person but at least in this I seem to be. If you find yourself in a similar situation and the difficulties seem too much, try a different approach. Maybe the new angle or process will make the solution clear.

A Series Of Challenges

The prevailing wisdom in the industry is that if you want to build an audience, you need to write a series. Great! I like reading series. Writing one shouldn’t be a problem.

Bwahahahahaha!

I thought writing a novel was hard. Writing a series? Holy frak! It’s so much harder!

First off you have to think of a plot and conflict that can be stretched over multiple books, you have to have compelling characters that readers can’t get enough of, unexpected plot twists, and everyone gets a development arc!

You get a development arc, and you get a development arc! EVERYONE GETS A DEVELOPMENT ARC!

Um….thanks, Oprah. I think.

All joking aside, it’s quite a lot to juggle and keep track of. Oh yeah, and we actually have to pull it off. We can’t just dial it in. Yeah…no pressure. Given the enormous challenges and tricky balancing acts I sometimes marvel that series get written at all. I mean, a lot of these challenges are specific to series. Stand alone novels aren’t nearly as much trouble.

So with this in mind we’re going to be talking about series all month long. We’ll be discussing the unique challenges, and how to deal with them. We also have a Q&A at the end of the month with a guest author who just finished their series. (I’m quite looking forward to that.) Most of us (the Fictorians) have series in progress so I’m eager to find out how my colleagues dealt with some of the issues that I’m having with my series. You won’t want to miss any of this month’s posts!