Category Archives: Interacting With Professionals

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.

We Don’t Write in a Vacuum

Writing in a vacuumSome writers write as a hobby, and don’t really expect anyone else to read their stories. Some people put pen to paper to record their memoirs, or to produce a work for close family and friends. Some literary writers seek to push the boundaries of the written word, without the weight of commercial sales holding them back.

We are not those writers.

Professional writers write with the goal of producing stories that people want to read. Hopefully lots of people. We develop craft and work with relentless determination to give our readers stories that entertain, instruct, and explore weighty matters of human existence.

To succeed as a professional writer, we need to sell enough books to support our work. So we need to develop, expand, and preserve our fan base.

How do we do that?

For new authors, it means starting at the beginning. That might include starting our own blogs, creating a newsletter, and deciding what content people want to see.

As our fan bases grow along with our story counts, what channels do we utilize to deliver those products? What marketing efforts work, and which ones flop?

This month, the Fictorians will explore these and other aspects of building our fan bases. I know I’m looking forward to a lot of great content.

Unexpected Invitations and Opportunities

Earlier this year, I sent off my novel Vendetta Protocol for a blurb from Baen books author Charles E. Gannon. When he responded with an excellent blurb, I was surprised by the last line of his email. After reading my book, he recommended me to authors Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey. I’d never heard of either of them, but in the weeks that followed, I learned that each of them had authored one book in what they called the Four Horsemen Universe – a military science fiction universe where humans most commonly act as mercenaries and often find themselves on the short end of the galactic stick. Mark and Chris offered me a story spot in an anthology they were launching to flesh out their universe based on that recommendation alone.

I hadn’t read their books and Chris and Mark hadn’t read mine. As we emailed back and forth, a knot of self-induced pressure built in my chest. Could I pull this off? Could I make good on my friend’s recommendation? When I received their “primer,” a fifteen page document outlining the basic rules of the universe, I sat down to read it and immediately gravitated to the concept of a Peacemaker Guild. Combined with a timely thought about a really bad movie from the 1980s, I developed a short story idea. Over the course of two weeks, I wrote the story and then did something I’ve never done before – I sent them the rough draft of the story and asked if I was anywhere close to what they wanted with their universe. Their response surprised me.

Not only was the story exactly what they wanted, they wanted me to continue the story of Earth’s first Peacemaker in novel format. I looked at my writing plan for the year, the success of the two additional books they launched in the universe, and what they were doing with the anthology (of which there were plans for three) and said yes. I scrapped finishing my Protocol War series in 2017 and signed on to write an unplanned book in a universe I was still learning about, and I had about twelve weeks to do it. Could I?

I did. When I completed the novel Peacemaker and turned it in to them, I had no idea what to expect. Would they like the story? Would the rabid fans of the Four Horsemen Universe embrace it? Had I told the kind of story I wanted to tell in their universe? The answer to all of those questions unfolded in late August and was a resounding “YES!” From that unexpected invitation, I’ve now committed to writing a total of three books in the Peacemaker storyline and have just completed book two – Honor The Threat.

For me, 2017 was all about embracing unexpected opportunities. Doing so has led me into avenues I’d never considered and put my work in front of new readers and fans. It’s hard to believe that I’m writing a new series from a short story idea, but that’s the way this writing thing tends to work. I’ve paddled into a wave and I’m going to ride it as best I can. In the coming year, I have books to write and conventions to attend, but I’ll be looking for opportunities because they can come in the most unexpected places. Keep your eyes and ears open – you never know where things might go.

Welcome to December – 2017 Year In Review

This month, the Fictorians and a few guest bloggers will share their successes, lessons learned, and their challenges as we collectively pursue our writing careers. I hope that some of their stories and posts resonate with you. We’re all at different places in our journey, but the idea that we’re all stepping forward is critical to remember.

Every year, I set Writing Goals. Those goals have become more ambitious over the last few years and I’ve been challenged to get my butt in the writing chair to achieve the things I wanted to at the beginning of the year. I opened up my schedule to attend more conventions and events, I ambitiously took on a new project that was not on my writing goals at all, and I managed to get two books published in the last half of the year. I’ll share more about those projects later this month, but there were two things that happened this year that harken back to something that Kevin J. Anderson talks about: “Popcorn Theory.” The idea is that as writers, we can’t treat our stories like a single kernel of popcorn. If we were hungry, we’d starve cooking one kernel at a time. Having more projects going breeds creativity and creates unique opportunities. This year, I’d decided to take a break from writing all short fiction to focus on writing/editing two novels. Yet, opportunities knocked and I listened.

The first was an opportunity I’ll discuss more in a couple of weeks, but I received an invitation to submit a story for an anthology in the bestselling military science fiction series of the Four Horsemen Universe. I had a blink in my schedule, so I wrote the story, turned it in, and saw my whole calendar for the year derailed when not only did editors Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey love my short story but they asked me to write a novel with my character Peacemaker Jessica Francis. But, more on that later.

Very soon, AVATAR Dreams – An Anthology Inspired by the ANA X-Prize, will be published that features some of the biggest names in science fiction. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Mike Resnick, this collection features stories from Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, Martin L. Shoemaker, Tina Gower, Marina J. Lostetter, Brad R. Torgersen, Josh Vogt, Dr. Harry Kloor, Andrea Stewart, Ron Calling, Kay Kenyon, and Kevin Ikenberry. That’s right – me. Opportunity knocked and I was in the right place.

Kevin J. Anderson looked across the table at me and said, “I need another story for the AVATAR Dreams Anthology. Can you get me something in two weeks?”

Yes, I could.

From story idea to turn-in was seven days. It was a crazy, hectic time but I had a story crystallize in my head that combined the movie “The Fast and the Furious” with Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage. With the help of my friend Lou J. Berger, some bacteriology tutoring from my father (putting that PhD to use), and a couple of late nights, I turned in a story faster than expected. Hearing that it was a great fit for the anthology was icing on the proverbial cake. But, my take away from the experience was that I could take a short-notice opportunity and do something good. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a short story and I’m pretty proud of “That Others May Live.”

So, as we go through the month of December and hear different stories, there’s a chance you’ll hear opportunity knocking. Don’t be afraid to answer the door. Everybody on the blog this month has been listening, I’m sure.