Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Make a Fast $50 Offline (or The Lost Art of Hustling)

I was on one of the author boards recently, and - as will happen from time to time - another writer was complaining about the inability to afford some of the "basics" of self-publishing: cover art, editing, and so on.  Now, it's no secret that selling books is difficult, and a lot of the essential elements that go into a good book (e.g., a good cover) aren't exactly cheap.  However, rather than find a way to scrape together the cash, some authors would rather publish a book with a bad cover, no editing, etc. (To me, that's like an auto manufacturer deciding to only put three wheels on a car because they couldn't afford the fourth.) I'm always disappointed by this type of passivity, because in my opinion it shows an extreme lack of hustle.

Unfortunately, thanks to The Hustler - a famous film starring Paul Newman - terms like "hustle" and "hustler"have gotten a bad rap.  Today, when people hear "hustler," they often think of someone shady - a con artist, swindler, grifter, or the like. However, the term is also defined by as "an enterprising person determined to succeed; go-getter." That's the definition I embrace, and I think having the mindset of a hustler - being enterprising and thinking outside the box - can go a long way towards getting people in general, not just writers, out of a financial funk. With that in mind, here are a couple of non-traditional ways to quickly earn $50 offline.

Trading Books
In my area, there are a ton of mom-and-pop used book stores around.  Most of them usually have a bargain bin that will be full of books that they're selling for something like 25 cents - usually no more than 50 cents, max.  (Some of the books are often in like-new condition.) I've been known to spend a couple of bucks on these, then go to the nearest Half-Priced Books or such and immediately sell my purchases - usually at least doubling my investment. (Even my kid got in on the action, buying about $5 worth of bargain books and immediately selling them for something like $12.) I'm not saying you could make a full-time living this way, but you can certainly use this method to scrape together cash in a hurry (although you may have to visit more than one bookstore to get $50 or more).

Garage Sales
Another way to get some cash in a hurry is with neighborhood garage sales. It's not unusual for people shopping at these events to spend hours going house-to-house in search of bargains, and one thing I've noticed is that they often come unprepared in terms of provisions (ie, nothing to eat, nothing to drink). As an enterprising individual, you can make beaucoup bucks just selling soda, water, and snacks to these shoppers for $1 each out of your trunk - especially in summer. (In neighborhoods with a lot of activity, you might earn $50 in half an hour.) Just make sure you are prepared from the standpoint of being able to make change. As for where to find these garage sales, assuming you don't see signs posted in various neighborhoods when you're out just driving around, you can often find out about them in local/community newspapers or publications.

These are just two simple methods of putting some cash in your pocket in a hurry. Basically, there are all kinds of ways to get out there and legitimately earn money - quite often quickly if you put your mind to it.  But you can't be passive about it.  You have be willing to hustle: be enterprising, be on the lookout for opportunities, and - quite often - think outside the box.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Reflections After 3 Years of Self-Publishing

So I was just sitting here thinking about my upcoming writing schedule (ie, the order in which I'm going to write the next few books, when they'll be released, etc.), and it suddenly occurred to me that I had just passed my 3-year self-publishing anniversary. Yep, it's been three years since I launched my scifi/fantasy writing career (some time around end of April/beginning of May - I don't remember exactly), and I have to say it's been a blast.

First of all, readers have been great. They have warmly embraced both me and my books with an enthusiasm that was unexpected but incredibly rewarding, as evidenced by the reception that my most recent release, Coronation, enjoyed:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superhero
#1 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superheroes
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Metaphysical & Visionary

Also, other writers have been extraordinarily helpful in terms of sharing their knowledge and experience. For just about any idea that occurs to me on the business side - marketing, using pen names, etc. - there's already another author who's tried it and has a wealth of information to share on the subject.

So, after three years of doing this, what exactly have I learned?  Quite a lot, to be honest - more than I could fit into a single blog post.  That being the case, I'll try to single out a few of the items I felt have been instrumental in my success.

1) Outsource What You Can (or Time is Money)
I'm a writer, so I always figure my focus should be on writing. That said, there really aren't enough hours in the day for me to do all the writing I'd like, so I'd prefer not to spend time doing other tasks that might be writing-related but are really outside my wheelhouse.

Take book covers, for instance.  There are some authors who do their own covers and are quite good at it.  I'm not one of them - a fact that I knew the second I started down this path and one that was never debated.  Moreover, I have no interest in learning this particular skill.  Frankly speaking, time is money, and my time is better spent being an author rather than trying to master the nuances of every skill relating to publishing.

In short, I think it's better to outsource as much as possible: editing, book covers, formatting, etc. Focus on the writing.

2) Write the Book That You Want to Write
When I first started writing, it wasn't with a goal in mind to become rich or famous (not that either of those have happened).  I did it because I had stories to tell and a burning desire to get them out there.  I'm just blessed in that my work resonated with readers and I was able to find an audience.  However, I'd like to think that I'd still be churning out books even if that wasn't the case.

Basically, writing provides a sort of personal fulfillment for me, probably in the same way that a professional athlete gets pleasure out of playing his particular sport.  Sure, it's great to "win," but at the heart of it all is a love for the game that makes you want to be a participant in the sport at any level.  That's the high I get out of writing.

However, to get to that point, I think you have to write the story that you want to write.  I know that a lot of writers are pursuing fame and fortune by trying to write to market - quite often in genres that they don't care for. I would think that has to be exceedingly difficult, akin to working a job you don't like.  I think you need to write the story that's burning a hole in you, even if it doesn't fit the standard categories or tropes.

By way of example, there's my Warden series.  I wanted to write a series about monsters - but not the typical ones that you find in most books (eg, vampires, zombies, etc.).  I wanted to write about creatures that don't get much air time for the most part:  wendigos, lamias, aswangs, blemmyes, revenants, and so on.  From a commercial standpoint, it's been my least successful series.  However, everything's relative; the books have actually sold thousands of copies and are indeed a profitable venture.  More to the point, I got to write the series I wanted to write - the one that I simply had to get out before it ate me alive.

In essence, I think you have to write the story that's eating you up, rather than the one you think is commercially viable. There's nothing that says you can't do both, but I think only one of them is actually a requirement.

3) Pursue all Revenue Streams
I always thought it was odd that some writers completely eschew putting their work in print and only pursue the ebook market.  To me, that's the same as everybody trying to live on Manhattan Island when the entire mainland is in sight and wide open.

Admittedly, most indies tend to sell more ebooks than print copies.  However, it costs almost nothing - nothing! - to make a print version.  And if print only earns you fifty bucks a month, well, that's fifty bucks you didn't have before.  Thus, I've never understood this deliberate stiff-arming of another revenue stream.  (Plus, since I grew up poor, I don't like to simply assume that everyone has access to some type of e-reader.  Therefore, by putting it in print, I'm at least making it possible for a reader to request my book through their local library.)

That said, I've been guilty of this same type of behavior myself.  I've known about audiobooks since I first started, but I've never made any effort to pursue that market.  I just didn't think it was worth the time, effort, or money.  However, it recently occurred to me that - if I'm really going to be in this writing business - then I needed to pursue all potential revenue sources. With that in  mind, I bit the bullet and made my first audiobook for Sensation, the first book in my Kid Sensation series.

The audiobook has been out for close to four weeks now, and I'm excited to report that I seem to have been dead wrong about audio. (And if you let my wife tell it, it's probably the only time I've ever admitted to being wrong about something, or been happy about it.)  Since its release, the audio version has sold almost 200 copies. (You can find the audiobook here.) Now, of course, I want to kick myself for waiting so long to move in this direction, and find myself over-eager to produce audio versions of everything else.

Anyway, those are just a few of the things I've learned after three years of putting my nose to the writing grindstone.  There are, naturally, quite a few other maxims to abide by, but - like so many other industries - this is a field that is constantly expanding and changing.  You have to stay nimble, and be willing to embrace change and accept challenges in order to continue to thrive.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Delusional Authors: They're Out There...

It's hard to sell books. That's a simple truth.  You can do everything right in terms of genre tropes, expectations, etc., and still have a dud. In some cases, it's a true mystery: the author will have a well-written story, a fantastic cover and a killer blurb...and the book won't sell a single copy.  It's a real head-scratcher.

In other instances, however, it's plain as day why the book is struggling: the author will have done a terrible job on all three fronts - cover, blurb, and story - but will marvel at the injustice in the universe when readers fail to fight tooth and nail to purchase copies.  In those instances, the author can come across as somewhat delusional in terms of both their sales expectations and how readers will react to their work.  By way of example:

I have a friend who has written a book. I offered to help them with the self-publishing process since they had never done it before. I also offered to help edit it so that they wouldn't have to pay for that particular service.  When I get the manuscript, it's essentially one huge block of text: no separation of paragraphs, no chapter breaks, no nothing.  I tell them this has to be fixed.  No, no...they'd rather just publish it as it is.  I apply some arm-twisting, and they agree to put in some chapter breaks, separate paragraphs, and so on.

Also, when I first take a look at the manuscript, MS Word opens up a window I've never seen before - one that I didn't even know existed, in fact: 
"This document has too many typographical and grammatical errors to continue showing them all."
Seriously. Once I get over my shock and surprise, I tell them all of this [feces] has to be fixed.  No. no...they'd rather just publish it as it is. I apply some more arm-twisting, and they agree that that these are things that need to be addressed.

As I read the manuscript, I immediately notice that it's incredibly choppy - eg, characters will be talking to each other outside, and then in the very next sentence (not the next paragraph, chapter, or the like - the very next sentence), one of them will be in a restaurant, at the movies, in the can, or something like that, with absolutely no indication of how they got there, when they got there, why they're there, etc.  (And no, this is not SF/fantasy, so there's no teleportation, materializing, and so on.)  I point out the lack of transition in scenes and say that all this [mf'ing feces] has to be fixed.  No, no...they'd rather just publish it as it is.  ("Readers will understand what's happening," they say.) I again apply some arm-twisting, and they agree to address these issues.

Adding fuel to the fire, the story is rife with inconsistencies. For instance, two characters drive to a city in another state that is described as being at least two hours away by car; later, one of the characters states that the drive only took an hour.  There are also a couple of siblings who, at the beginning of the story, are two years apart in age. By the time you get to the last page, the difference in age is seven years. I point out that these (and the many, many other inconsistencies) have to be fixed. No, no...they'd rather publish the story as it is. ("Readers aren't going to care," they say.)  By this time my hands are [eff'ing] gnarled from all the previous arm-twisting, so I invent an arm-twisting machine and put my friend in it and crank it up to high.  They agree to fix the inconsistencies.

I could go on, because the list of poor choices my friend wants to make in terms of publishing this book goes on forever.  (For example, they initially chose a cover for the book that is completely unrelated to the story; in fact, the cover at issue would actually make a reader think the book was related to an entirely different genre.)  They think that the things I've pointed out are much ado about nothing.  My response was that we should publish the book - as is - but under a pen name.  That way, my friend could see the kind of reaction/reviews the book gets and whether the issues I've highlighted are really of concern to readers.  But no, no...if the book gets published, they want their real name on it, regardless of whether it's fit for human consumption.

In short, based on this experience, I've learned that some of us really are delusional.  There are some authors who publish things that really aren't ready for prime time.  They simply believe that the power of their story is so great that readers will overlook glaring errors, but (as we all know) that is simply not true.

More to the point, I think it shows a certain level of disrespect for the reader. Yes, readers are kind, generous, and willing to overlook the occasional fault if the overall product is good. But you can't just shove anything out there and expect readers to flock to it. They deserve better than that, and any author who thinks its okay to offer readers anything less than their best work really is delusional.

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