May 30 2010

Post No. 53: Blogging

2 February 2010

I have lucked out. The shell of my blog has been created with a program called WordPress, by an entity – I’m not sure it’s a company – that seems to be an offshoot of the open source community. This means that the software is free, but it also means that the documentation is likely to be oriented towards techies and impenetrable to anybody else. Luckily, Sarah McHarry has written an online manual, also free, that is a masterpiece. So I was able to get my blog up and running in less than three hours. In fact, in retrospect, I think that, had I read McHarry’s tutorial, the blog part of my marketing efforts could have been a do-it-yourself project.

You can run your blog through WordPress, but there are a lot of advantages to having your own domain name, which I have obtained with Linda’s help. McHarry tells you how to do that by yourself in her second manual, which costs seven dollars. I think that’s an incredible bargain.

In any case, the first phase of my online marketing is in place. Visitors can get to my blog from my web site, and to my web site from my blog, but as I wanted, the two appear as two separate entities to the outside world.

The next phase is social networking (in the limited, online sense). I don’t exactly understand all the mechanics yet. The components include a “fan page” on Facebook, links from other blogs, and “tweets” – the 140-character-long messages produced by Twitter. In theory, there’s a way to automate your blog, or Twitter, or Facebook in such a way that a blog excerpt automatically gets tweeted out to all your followers. You get followers in the first place by adding a hyperlink at the bottom of your blog that allows people to start following you with only a couple of clicks. I looked today, and at the moment I have 17 followers.

But that’s not the point. The goal of tweeting is to generate a so-called viral effect. Because – and this is the key to Twitter as a marketing tool – your followers can retweet your message. There are equations for calculating potential results, based on populating modeling or simple exponential growth.

You can reach a lot of people this way. But, I ask myself once again, is this the proper focus for a novelist?

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 27 2010

Post No. 52: Keep Your Day Job

2 February 2010

The Fortuna print run could be as low as 1000, I have learned. This low number, which disturbed my agent, actually gave me the first ray of hope in weeks. I can probably figure out a way to sell 1000 books in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. That’s 50 books at 20 stores over a three-month period. Not impossible. My daughter has sold 500 copies of her cookbook just by personally knocking on doors at restaurants and gourmet cooking stores. But I still can’t see the path from success on this micro scale to a profitable endeavor that would pay me for my time.

It is slowly sinking in that writing books cannot be a second career for me, or anybody for that matter. It can only be a hobby, or, at best, a part-time job.

Actually, that’s not true. There are, to my knowledge, two sorts of writers who can make an okay living writing books. The first are the people who write technical and semi-technical instruction books related to computer software. These books have a rather short shelf-life, directly related to the life of the products they describe, but there is always a new product. Typically, once you’ve written such a book, you can easily get a contract for the next one. You can probably do three or four books a year, and as you become clever you find ways to do them more efficiently. (One way is to use lots of diagrams, which cuts down on the number of words you have to produce.) It’s not a great living, but it’s a living.

I think (but am not one hundred percent certain) that’s it’s also possible to make a living writing to a very tight formula for a specific publisher’s brand, like the Harlequin Romances.

But the idea of a career as a sort of free-lance novelist looks increasingly unrealistic.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 24 2010

Post No. 51: Direct Marketing

2 February 2010

Another good conversation with K. The direct mail is locked down now, with a creative concept, logistics plan (Where do I get the little boxes, the locks, the parchment sheets?) and – last but hardly least – what marketing people call “messaging.”

When you use a dimensional direct mail piece, i.e. something that can’t be mailed in an envelope, the thing itself is supposed to attract attention, but it has to be connected to a message if it’s to have a useful effect. Once, to promote software that helped large corporations deal with new government regulations, we mailed senior executives a shredder. The message was, “We know what you’d really like to do with these new regulations, but since you can’t, we’d like to tell you about the second-best option.”

My question in regards to the indie buyers was, What’s benefit? I came up with three value propositions, as they’re called:

You’ll sell lots of books.

You’ll look good to your customers

You’ll be carrying a book that reflects well on your book store.

In my view, none of these were credible. But Kylie put things in a fresh light for me. She said, in so many words, “Genre fiction is all about escape. We need to say that Fortuna provides that escape.”

So, the copy on the outside of the box will say:

Feeling boxed in? Look inside.

The locked box will have a label with a key attached. It will say:

This is your key to a whole new world: Fortuna.

There’s no question in my mind that every buyer who gets this will open it and read the first page of my novel. Then, it’s up to their personality, and what they had for lunch.

The  next step is to find out how I can get a few of these in the hands of the reps, who have a similar problem but on a larger scale. Today, the two key people at Oceanview involved in marketing are launching a book that they themselves have written, a sort of sixty-is-the-new-forty book about career changing. I’ll have to wait a week or so before I’ll be able to get any quality attention from them. That’s okay, there’s still plenty of time.


May 23 2010

Post No. 50: Anger Management

31 January, 2010

I have a friend who says my “default emotion” is anger. Maybe he’s right. I am furious about Oceanview’s approach to marketing Fortuna. No, that’s not true. There seems to be no other approach, short of a 6-figure campaign for a major author. What makes me furious is that I don’t have target number. S, the president, was when I asked her coy, and that didn’t help. I want that number!

I think the best path is to appeal to B., who seems to be in charge of marketing. I will try a friendly approach first. Something like:

“B, It was great getting together on the telecon, and I greatly appreciate the collective advice I got. I wanted to ask you an important question: What is our numeric target for success? I would like to have a specific number in mind for the first 90 days and the first 180 days. Using that number, I will work backward and figure out how many signings it will take us to get there. If it’s not achievable by signings alone – I don’t think it is – then I will at least know what more I have to do, either via the organic web or perhaps via paid advertising. Thanks. This is very important to me. Mike.”

If that doesn’t work, I will just take the gloves off. At last I have some leverage. The book has actually gone to press, which means they have to pay the printer, and I can’t imagine the bill will be less than $10,000. That’s enough to get the attention of anyone running a small business. They’re stuck with the books, and I’m really the only person who can sell them. So… they need me on board. And to get me on board, they have to share information, not conceal it.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 22 2010

Post No. 49: Personal Appearances

An hour-long teleconference with the two sales people at Oceanview, plus two of the three owners, and J, the project manager whose job it is to keep everything rolling along. It was depressing.

I did learn a little more about what I will be expected to do. There are three categories of appearance:

  • The talk-and-sign is the biggest, and the most risky. Unless you have a big name, you can end up with an audience of one or two.
  • The meet-and-greet is when you set up a little table near the front of the bookstore and hope people will wander by, see you, see you with your book, and buy a copy,.
  • The drop-by is when you call a couple days in advance and offer to “drop by” and sign a few copies. The benefit here is that your book gets displayed prominently for a week or two.

I have no objection to any of these activities. I see that, like it or not, they are important. But my heart sank when, as we discussed them, the  conversation devolved again and again to onesie-twosie selling, thinking about locations where I “had lots of friends” who might show up, as though we were planning a series of Tupperware parties.

In business, you look for leverageable events, and in publishing it would seem there are none, other than personal appearances, which are only good for getting you the next personal appearance. Or at least that’s the case if you’re just starting out.

The leverage, to the extent that it exists, is in the web. To be sure, on the web you’re one voice among over a billion, which would seem to put the odds of “winning” out of reach. But there is another way to look at it. Willy Smith had eight $100 million films in a row, and he did it, according to his own account, by trying to “stand where lightning strikes.” On the web, lightning can strike. At a personal appearance, it can’t.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 21 2010

Post No. 48: The Importance of One Sentence

27 January, 2010

The realities of selling a book shine a spotlight on the importance of having a single line to encapsulate what the book is about. As I mentioned in an earlier post, mine is, “It’s a thriller about a college student who gets addicted to one of those online role-playing games.” It’s designed for clarity, not sizzle. But clarity, I’ve found, is important for Fortuna, because if the phrasing isn’t right, people think it’s science fiction, which crosses out a lot of potential readers. That’s why it’s important to say it’s a thriller. The word “addicted” is also important, because it implies that there is a juicy social issue. The part about online role-playing games works two ways. I can be seen as exotic and interesting, or “only for kids.” I’m trying to teach my team to follow the original line with two other points.

The first is the fact that there are over 15 million online gamers, and half of them are married! In other words, there is an adult audience for Fortuna. The second point is that the game is set in Renaissance Florence, which adds a whole historical dimension to the book.

I designed the cover to get these points across as well. The photo is an actual historical coin, which says “Renaissance, historical,” combined with a computer screen cursor, which says “high tech.”

I always sent the Fortuna manuscript out with a mock cover (similar to the final) on the front page, because sometimes an image can communicate multiple messages simultaneously in a way word’s can’t. The working cover for my new manuscript is below. The keys: gothic script (“historical”), flag (“thriller/espionage”) and the old symbol for atomic energy.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 17 2010

Post No. 47: Getting Booksellers’ Attention

27 January, 2010

In my last post I talked about how my smallish publisher uses reps (not employees) to sell books to the chains. With independents, the relationship is more direct. The good news is, there are ways to have a direct impact on the sales process, and once you get an advocate, they will “hand sell” your book to their customers, and most likely tell their friends at other stores. The bad news is, the process is labor-intensive, since you have to pitch each bookseller individually. 

M. says that without any doubt her best sales weapon is the ability to offer the author for a signing. She drew a vivid picture of what it’s like.

“Are you familiar with the term ‘slush pile?’” she asks.

“Sure,” I respond. “It’s the stack of unsolicited manuscripts on the desk of an acquisitions editor.”

“Right, but the term is also used for the waste-high stack of ARCs that most independent buyers have in their office.” The problem is to get them to pay attention to your book, buried as it is in the middle of the stack, which grows every day. The way to do this is to offer an author signing.

Successful signings are usually the only thing that gives M. any leverage with other booksellers. If she can say, “I sent Mike to Tattered Cover and he sold out,” she can get me in elsewhere, and get a decent order in the bargain.

My whole concept of developing specific metro markets and building a spread sheet of convincing sales numbers won’t work. But there are a couple things I can do.

The first is to develop what’s called in marketing a “dimensional direct mail piece.” It need to be something that is hard to ignore. Once, to help a company sell software for controlling travel expenses, I created a game board (with invaluable contributions from co-creative director Marcia Gregory), complete with dice and little tokens. You competed by rolling the dice and moving from square to square like in Monopoly, except the object of this game was to waste as much money as possible on a business trip. The squares said things like, “Rent a Lexus instead of a Ford, waste $250 dollars,” and so on. We got three responses on the first day, worth about $1.5 million in potential business for our client.

Will something like this help M “get their attention?” I hope so.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 11 2010

Post No. 46: Team Building

27 Jan 2010

A beyond-all-expectations conversation with K. at Oceanview. She is definitely on board, so it’s two down and one to go in terms of team building. In retrospect, I created my own difficulties by not giving M. and K. more credit – particularly M. So many of the people I have dealt with in business over the years were stupid that I tend to assume the worst, which is probably not to my advantage. In any case, I now “get it.” I understand the selling process, and that means I can figure out how to help it along.

Basically, there are the chains, the independents, and the online sales channels. For the chains and independents, the first key objective is getting books on the shelves. Oceanview uses conventional sales reps for the chains. Each rep represents somewhere between five and ten publishers, probably closer to five is my guess. The reps actually visit the buyers for the chains face-to-face and pitch their “Fall line” (or whatever season it is) one book at a time. So the importance of a single line that encapsulates what a book is about is huge. (Mine is, “It’s a thriller about a college student who gets addicted to one of those online role-playing games.” More about that in another post.)

Based on the cover, the pitch, and the publisher’s reputation, the chain buyers either buy or don’t.   The buyers, I have heard, revel in their power. With bigger publishers, where the buyers and employees of the publisher deal directly, the buyers often agree to place an order only if the publisher changes the cover design.

The bottom line for me is that there is no way to influence this situation.

The independents are a different story.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 9 2010

Post No. 45: The Contract

December 29, 2008

Kimberley uses a lawyer to negotiate her contracts who refuses to have any contact with “the author.” I feel like I’m the victim of stereotyping, as though authors, simply by virtue of the work thye do, must be difficult, irrational people who could only get in the way. I don’t like this situation, but at the same time I see its merit. There is truth in most stereotypes, and I know very well that every extra person involved in a negotiation makes getting a result more difficult.

Instead of complaining, I do an end run. I call Oceanview’s CEO, Susan Greger. I explain that I’m not going to be involved in the negotiations, and actually don’t want to be. But… this lawyer works for me, and ultimately has to do what I say. So don’t hesitate to call me if you come to an impass. I want this deal to happen.

As it turns out, they’ve already had one exchange and it went well. “Don’t worry,” says Susan, “She’s just doing her job. As a matter of fact, she actually helped me with a couple of things in our standard contract that made it better.”

All is well.

January 28, 2009

The contract arrives, and, as I anticipated, it is awful. I have never seen a contract that so favors one side over the other, and I’ve seen plenty. I have to grant Oceanview first right of refusal on my next book (not so bad in itself), but I also have to agree to the same terms as Fortuna. There’s no “best seller clause” that allows me to renegotiate if Fortuna sells millions of copies, gets reprinted in 17 languages, etc.

Equally bad, they only pay me royalties once a year, in the year after I earn them – which means that it could be six years from the time I started spending substantial time on the book before I see any money beyond the advance. As a first time author, I have no leverage in this situation.

I sign.

February 11, 2009

A celebratory lunch with Kimberley, again at the Buckeye. How time marches on. Phil is not with us because he has left Halsey-Reece. In fact, he has left publishing altogether. Kimberley doesn’t even know what he’s doing. She suspects he’s uncomfortable communicating with her since she put so much energy into grooming him and he just skipped out. There is no rancor in her voice as she tells me all this, but I wonder.

I bring up the matter of the outrageous contract. “I know, I know,” is her response. Most of what I object to has become standard industry practice.

And what about the missing best seller clause?

“Don’t worry. If Fortuna is a best seller, we’re going back to the table.”

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.


May 8 2010

Post No. 44: My Agent Soldiers On

December 18, 2009

I drive over to Marin County for a late afternoon drink with my agent, Kimberley Cameron. We sit outside in unseasonably warm December weather. When the waitress approaches, Kimberley enquires if there’s a French Chablis, and the answer is yes. California Chablis can be quite sweet, but the French variety is more like a medium Chardonnay. They come from the same grape. She also orders some bread and pate. “Only the chicken, not the other, please.”

Kimberley is dealing with a slew of personal and business problems. On the business side, an employee of six years whom Kimberley set up in New York at substantial expense has jumped ship along with several clients, including one who just got a six figure advance. It’s a real blow, but she soldiers on, giving me her undivided attention and offering one suggestion after another as I go through my plans.

When I mention a bookseller I want to hit on, she says “We had lunch today. We hugged. No problem.” She is also close with a woman at RedRoom, an important web site for me.

And she has good news. She had lunch a few days ago in Los Angeles with two film agents. There’s no telling whether they’ll take on Fortuna – it depends on whether or not they “get” it – but it’s a start, and worth a celebratory clink of wine glasses. My opinion is, if you don’t celebrate the small victories, you’ll rarely get to celebrate.

She has run out of ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) and I agree to get her four more. So now I’m off to the post office to send those, as well as gifts to the publisher and editor-and-chief of Oceanview. One of the aspects of selling books is constantly competing for the attention of the people who can help you.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magicmichael (Magicmichael is my twitter name.)

Read the first chapter of Fortuna right now at www.fortunathebook.com

 Note: I’m using the blog format here to post a journal I have been keeping for some time. We will catch up to the present in a couple of weeks.