Should Writers Buy Books at Bookstores?

My answer is: If they want to.

The thing is, though, I don’t always want to.

In the wake of the news that Barnes & Noble’s CEO resigned, the future of our last remaining big-box bookstore remains unclear, and what I want to know is: Is this my fault?

I am, after all — hold onto your bookmarks! — a big Amazon devotee. I buy books from Amazon all the time. (I’m an Amazon Prime member, which gives me free, expedited shipping.) And I have been criticized by other writers for doing so. (Porter Anderson recently discussed how writers have been criticized just for LINKING to Amazon on their websites. Oy vey.) And I don’t understand why.

Does this also mean I should be buying my groceries from small little markets rather than supermarkets? Should I be patronizing neighborhood hardware stores instead of Home Depot? Should I be paying more for my books as I do for my eggs, which are cage-free? How did the demise of Barnes & Noble become my doing?

The way I see it, isn’t it inevitable that bookstores will eventually go the way of, say, record stores and video stores. Books — like music and video — is heading digital, whether we like it or not. Is Amazon really to blame for this? Am I to blame? I mean, I’m all for paying an extra dollar or two at a bookstore — be it a chain like Barnes & Noble or an indie — to keep it going, and to support all the great things that they do, but sometimes the price differential is significant — like 10 bucks per book. And when you buy as many books as I do, and make as little money as I do (starving artist, anyone?) we’re talking hundreds of dollars that I’d rather see go to cage-free eggs than the same exact book that I can buy for much less on Amazon.

I guess I just don’t understand the school of thought that says writers should be going out of their way to buy at Barnes & Noble. (BTW, as a self-published author, I can tell you that Barnes & Noble — and many indies, for that matter — aren’t going out of their way for me. Not that I’m bitter. Just sayin.’) Shouldn’t bookstores be finding ways to attract US? Shouldn’t we WANT to shop there? And not out of guilt?

What say you, writers? Am I a bad person?

(Note: Immediately after I pressed publish on this post, I discovered this link to a story titled, “Bookshops Stay Relevant, and Viable, as Centers for Public Discourse.” Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about! If bookstores want to attract book lovers, they should become a cultural center! I may not be hell-bent on buying Exploring Diabetes With Owls at your store on any given day, because chances are that it’s five bucks more than what Amazon wants me to pay, but if you’ve got David Sedaris giving a chat and signing books, I’d certainly pay an extra five bucks — if not more! — for that.)

 

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Marketing Tip #5

At the end of your eBook, place a link(s) that directs readers to where they can buy additional books of yours. This is one of the best tips I’ve read recently online (apologies for not remembering where I read it), and it makes complete sense. Readers are most apt to buy a book of yours if they’ve just read one and loved it. I can remember lots of times when I closed a book, leaned back and thought, Wow, that was good, and went to the bookstore to check out more things from that author (Dan Brown comes to mind). The best way to capitalize on that high in the eBook world is to have a link at the end of your eBook that brings readers to a book retailing website — Amazon, for example, if it’s a Kindle book. This way, they can buy another one of your books immediately — sort of like an impulse buy at the supermarket checkout, the well-I’m-here-anyway-so-I-may-as-well-buy-it kind of thinking. Chances are if readers really like your book, they will find their way to Amazon or Barnes & Noble on their own, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing them in the right direction.

Thriller Book Cover Fonts: Go Big or Go Home?

Yesterday, after reading my post about eBook covers, author Elizabeth Kirke stopped by my Facebook page to mention she had blogged about the importance of titles and fonts, something I’ve actually been thinking about for a few days.

As a thriller writer, I’m not a big fan of the way thriller book covers are presented to readers, with those gigantic fonts that scream at you the moment you walk through the doors of Barnes & Noble. Like this (actually I kind of like this one, but you get the point):

But I guess what these kinds of covers have going for them is that they connote immediacy and danger and, yes, screaming, so readers readily identify the books behind them as thrillers. And that’s a good thing — readers know what they’re getting and can march right to that book at the bookstore, or online, if that’s what they’re after. But I’ve always pictured the cover of Baby Grand a certain way, not necessarily with tiny type, but with more of an airy feel to it. I’m wondering if it would be a mistake to veer from what is obviously a successful formula for the genre.

What do you think?

Guest Post: Does Free Reign?

Today’s guest post comes from Wendy L. Young, Tuesday’s featured debut author. Wendy mentioned in our chat that offering one of her short stories for free on Amazon has helped sales of her self-published novel, Come the Shadows. I found this to be interesting. Conventional thought used to be — and as my grandmother used to tell me when I hit puberty — nobody wants to pay for a cow when they can get the milk for free. Recently, Akashic Books defied that logic when copies of its parody children’s book, Go the F— to Sleep, went viral before its publication in June. Sales of the book still skyrocketed, and it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List three months later. Many authors offer their books for free intentionally as a way to increase their visibility. Wendy chose to offer a separate, shorter work. I wanted to know more. Today, Wendy gives it to us.

When I embarked on this journey I focused on the writing, telling myself that the marketing would follow — just get it out there and then worry about the rest. The only pause I took in the middle of writing Come the Shadows was to pen a quick short story titled “One Final Night.” From first word to publish I spent one week on it. I put it out there, quickly learned some important self-publishing lessons, and largely left it alone.

Fast forward 3 months and Come the Shadows was published and available for download – and I was standing at an abyss called Marketing. I saw some chatter about freebies and realized that I had something to offer. At this point I had considered UN-publishing my short story and wiping it from the public eye because it was in a different genre. After considering my options, I switched tactics and made it free. That’s not an instant thing — neither Barnes & Noble or Amazon will let a self-published author choose *free* as an option – but after a couple of weeks it finally took effect.

Within 48 hours of the price change almost 2500 people had picked it up off Amazon. 24 hours later the total doubled. In less than a week it peaked at #15 on the freebie list – that’s ALL freebies, for all Kindles. Now, in less than a month, it has been downloaded almost 27000 times on Kindle. I cannot access any B&N numbers for it due to how it is listed there but I would venture it’s 5,000+ there as well. The reviews have been great too — averaging over 4.5 stars across the board.

But, what does that mean for my book?

At this point, not a lot. Were I listing a free novel with a tie-in to a paid book I think I would be running down the road screaming joy as numbers climbed. I am very happy I did it but it has not bought me a trip to the moon, or even over a hop over the Atlantic.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t done any good. It did bump my sales a little when I combined it with dropping the price of Come the Shadows from $2.99 to $0.99. And with such glowing reviews it definitely helps those who research see very positive statements about my writing and the effect my work can have on a reader. That’s something you cannot buy.

Overall I recommend this as a very positive technique for a new writer. Amazon, especially, does an amazing job promoting free works. I mentioned it most days on Twitter but for the most part Amazon did it for me. The downloads have slowed but continue and I have no plans any time soon to return it to a paid price.

I will definitely use free downloads again in the future and on larger works. I have seen multiple stories about how effective it can be and I believe that used well — long-term or just for a week or two — it can pay great dividends in growing an author’s footprint with readers.

Wendy L. Young has been writing for more than twenty years. She now writes and publishes short stories in literary fiction/drama and novels in mystery/suspense. Her first mystery Come the Shadows is out now and the sequel will be published in late fall 2011. Follow her online at http://www.twitter.com/wendyyoung

Meet Wendy L. Young

When Wendy Young, today’s featured debut author, mentioned that she writes in a “very old-fashioned way,” I immediately envisioned the tap-tap-tapping of my college days onto my electric typewriter. But, nope, that’s not what Wendy meant at all…

Name: Wendy L. Young

Name of book: Come the Shadows

Book genre: Mystery

Date Published: July 27, 2011

Publisher: Self-published via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and CreateSpace

What is your day job? I am a contract employee, full time for a confidential company. I stay home with my two-year-old son and fit the work in wherever I can, be it 5 a.m. or 10 p.m.

What is your book about? It revolves around a small town in North Carolina that has lived in anonymity and peace for the better part of a century. Everything is thrown into chaos when bones are discovered in a derelict factory. The fact that it’s the first murder in 17 years is big enough, but there’s a lot more going on than just one simple murder.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Editing. Editing. Editing. That’s the hardest part for me, anyway. I haven’t yet developed the hard edge needed to cut all that should be cut. I want to continue to nurture my favorite scenes, and my favorite people, even when I shouldn’t. Some were cut anyway in this book, but I’m sure I could have cut more.

What motivates you to write? I just love telling stories through the written word, and I have an intense desire to create things. I’ve dabbled in just about every craft you can think of before finally admitting that nothing in this world does it for me like writing.

Did you experience writer’s block? On the small scale, yes, I sometimes experience writer’s block. But I think it helps that I don’t start until I know where I want to go. Writer’s block is just another way to say you lost your train of thought. If that happens to me along the way (I write start to finish) then I just make a few notes about the scene or chapter and move on. I can finish it later in the editing stage.

If lack of planning is the problem, which happened to me in a novel I started last year, then it’s another animal altogether. I plan to pick that book up again, but before I do I have to figure out some important aspects of the climactic scenes and “big reveal.” If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re in trouble. Outlining isn’t for everyone but a certain amount of planning is necessary.

How long did it take you to write this book? It took me about ten weeks of writing, fitting it in around my stay-at-home-mom and works-full-time titles. Then it took another two months to edit because I drug my feet so horribly. All in all: four months and change.

Why did you decide to self-publish? I self-published for a lot of reasons, and I wonder every day if I made the right decision. Both traditional and indie publishing routes have their lures and their pitfalls. I think every person has to decide for themselves the right path. Just be sure you don’t self-publish with the idea you’ll be the next John Locke or Amanda Hocking – it takes work and a good stock of written material to make it happen!

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book?
The biggest misconception about writing a book, to me, is that people will automatically want to read it. There’s a “selling” aspect to writing that most writers don’t consider. When you start, your footprint in this world is tiny. It takes a lot to be heard in this big, wide world.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? The writing, period. I loved my daily write time. I write in a very old-fashioned way – with a pen and a spiral note book – and simply the action of writing, as your hand moves across paper, is fantastic.

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? I have promoted my book in a variety of ways – Twitter, Facebook, my blog and word of mouth. I also have several book bloggers lined up who are excited to read it, and one who already has posted her review. Getting my short story, “One Final Night,” free on Amazon also helped tremendously as it brought my name, and a small piece of my work, in front of thousands of readers within just a couple of days.

My biggest advice would be to start promoting before you publish. I was incredibly naive about this aspect and will definitely remedy that when I publish the sequel later this year.

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? As of yet, not a lot. I’ve only seen a couple of reviews of the work, and I’m still at the very beginning of promoting it. I revel in every review and every word of praise, however. For a long time, writing was a very private thing. I was incredibly nervous to let my husband be the first one to read this. Now that part of me is thrown open to the world, it can make you feel vulnerable and alive at the same time.

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? That’s hard to answer at this point – ask me in a year!

But right now I would have to say that I agree with her. I think everyone who wants to transition from writer to book author needs to be well prepared for the work involved and ready to seize those moments – be it a chance conversation on Twitter discussing what has worked for someone else or being fortunate enough to catch a good book blogger on a light stress day where he or she says, “Yes!” Be poised to jump and prepared enough to know how to use the opportunity to your advantage.

Writing Tip #38

Don’t fret over your first line. In Entertainment Weekly, write-ups of new books often include a blurb/sidebar called “First Line,” in which the first line of the novel, memoir or nonfiction book is quoted. And just yesterday, I read about this cool “paperback game” in the New York Times  in which players have fun with literary opening lines by trying to guess which is the correct opening line to a novel within a heap of totally made-up ones.

Although I do enjoy a good opening line and definitely plan on playing the paperback game with friends this summer, I think that there may be too much emphasis put on the first lines of books. As a journalist, hard news stories are all about the first line or lede, the who, what, where, when and why of your piece — the point being that if readers don’t have the time to read your entire article, they can get the gist of it only by reading the first paragraph or so. But when it comes to novels, people are in for the long haul. I agree that the first few pages should be engaging enough to hook the reader who might be standing in Barnes & Noble trying to decide if she is going to buy your or Snooki’s new book, but I don’t think anyone is going to make any rash purchase decision based simply on what may be a less-than-gripping first line.

Last fall, during the first revision process for Baby Grand, I remember staring at my computer, reading and rereading the first line and wondering, “Is this exciting enough? Would Entertainment Weekly consider this blurb-worthy?” The answer? Who cares. Entertainment Weekly also includes a blurb titled “Memorable Line” just as often as it does “First Line.” And my feeling is that if you’ve got enough of those, wherever they may be located in your manuscript, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Guest Post: Pitfalls Facing 1st Time Authors

Today’s guest blogger is Gabrielle Lichterman, who is also this week’s featured debut author. Gabrielle shares with us some of the potential pitfalls and misconceptions facing first-time authors, based on her experiences publishing her nonfiction book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential.

Don’t expect your publisher’s publicity department to do much for you. Or to even read your book. Publicists at publishing houses are overwhelmed with books and yours is just a blip on their radar screen. Get out your sneakers and pound the pavement yourself. Now, that said, do not—I repeat—do not anger, annoy, upset or accidentally insult your publisher’s publicist in any way. Treat him or her like gold no matter what he or she does (or doesn’t) do for you and your book. And if you accidentally do any of the aforementioned, suck it up and send him or her the biggest bouquet of roses you can afford with a big, fat apology. And if the publicist actually does snag you an interview, send an even bigger bouquet of roses with a big, fat thank you. The consequences of failing to heed this advice can be dire for the future of your book.

Make sure you’re 100 percent happy with your ms before you send it in to your editor. It’s very likely that your editor will look it over, then pass it along without suggesting any changes, providing any comments or telling you how brilliant or awful it is. Now, you may be lucky enough to get an editor who has the time to actually read every word of your ms and provide feedback. But, many simply don’t. In my magazine writing life, my editors are meticulous, helping me craft the message, get the style right and labor over every word so it’s just right. When I sent my ms in to my book editor, I was stunned to not get any feedback at all. And, frankly, based on questions she asked later in the process about my book’s content, it was pretty obvious she had little knowledge of what was actually in my book. That said, it’s key to also treat your editor like gold because he or she is the one who fell in love with your book idea and fought to have your project bought by the publisher in the first place. I’m just suggesting that you do more of your own homework and lower your expectations if they’re a bit high like mine were. And if you want your book to come out as perfectly as you hope, it’s primarily up to you to get it right.

Don’t believe all the promises. When getting wooed by a publisher, even a small one for a small amount of money, they will promise you all sorts of things to get you to pick them as your publisher—special promotions for your book, multi-colored ink, a pull-out calendar, etc. Unless it’s in writing in a signed contract, don’t expect to see those promises come through.

Pick your agent carefully. Don’t do what I did—I flew right into the arms of the first agent who said she’d rep my book proposal. My excitement took over, and I didn’t even meet her before signing a contract. A wiser choice: Find at least three agents who are interested in repping your proposal, and then interview them carefully. Find out which books they sold in the past six months, for how much and, most importantly, to whom. If an agent seems to have a relationship with only one or two publishers, this could be a red flag that he or she has a special relationship with those publishers (this agent may write for them on the side, get payments for recruiting authors for special projects, etc.). Move on and find an agent who works with a wide number of publishers instead. Also key: While interviewing your agent, find out how friendly or engaging he or she is. Agents are the ones who are talking directly to book editors to pitch your book and if they’re off-putting for any reason, book editors are already aware of this and will push his or her call to voicemail without ever listening to it.

Don’t be overly willing to yield just to get your book published. If there are changes being made that you don’t like, challenge them. I wish I had. For instance, I was never a fan of the title 28 Days because I was afraid readers would think they had to have a 28-day cycle to read my book when women with any length cycle can use it. And, according to reader feedback, my fear was well-founded. If I had a nickel for every email I received that said something like, “I’d read your book because I like the concept, but I don’t have a 28-day cycle….” I’d be a wealthy woman. That one title mistake cost me a lot of potential readers. It also cost me valuable interview time, because I then had to tell audience members that you didn’t need a 28-day cycle to read my book.

Keep your rights. My agent gave away much of the rights to publish my book in other countries to my publisher. But, I didn’t challenge it because I didn’t know better. I did, however, end up keeping the rights to three countries—Korea, Japan and Italy. Guess what? I sold the rights to all three and more than doubled the money I got from my American publisher. So, again, keep your rights. Same goes with movie rights—always keep your movie rights because nowadays anything can be made into a movie. And that’s easily another $100K to $500K right there.

One last bit of advice about rights: About nine or 10 months after my book was published, it got taken out of print. That was mighty fast, especially considering I was doing a major TV media tour with Procter & Gamble around the time and had garnered a ton of publicity. It really came as a shock. But what was most shocking is the way I found out: I asked about my book at a local Barnes & Noble store and was told by the clerk that it had been taken out of print. Neither my agent nor anyone from my publisher’s office bothered to tell me I was busy promoting a book that no one could even purchase. After I calmed down, I decided to ask for the rights to 28 Days to be given back to me. To my surprise, the publisher freely gave them to me. Now I can get the book republished if I wish with another publisher or publish it myself. And I get the benefit of correcting the mistakes I made the first time and hopefully avoid making them again.

Gabrielle Lichterman is a nationally known women’s health journalist and founder of Hormonology, the Hormone Horoscope. Her book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential, is the first and only horoscope based solely on women’s hormones. She offers a free daily hormone horoscope at myhormonesmademedoit.com.