If you’re not familiar with Carol Tice, sheesh, are you EVER in for a ride today! Write-to-Done has named her site Make a Living Writing a “Top 10 Websites for Writers” multiple times; MaLW was also counted among Writer’s Digest‘s “101 Best Websites for Writers” in (most recently) 2015. She writes regularly for Forbes and Entrepreneur.com, and counts Costco, American Express, and Dun & Bradstreet among her clients. Because apparently all those deadlines don’t keep her busy enough, she also runs the 1400+ member community at the Freelance Writers’ Den. You can find her books primarily on her website, but also on Amazon and many other writers’ sites.
Carol’s latest book is Start Here: 40 Freelance Writers Share How They Find Clients, Stay Motivated, & Earn Well Today. What’s the connection between Carol and the FF community? I’m delighted to note that two of the 40 writers starring in this book hail from our own Flash! Friday community: Carol Alexander (who is also a dear IRL friend of mine) and former FF judge Nillu Nasser Stelter.
But today our focus is on the manic worlds of publishing and marketing. Grab a mug of coffee and jump in with us!
You transitioned from full-time staff writer to freelancer at a really fascinating time.
I came in at the end of 2005 when the economy was going really good, and it was pretty easy to get started, especially having been a staff writer and having a portfolio already. But then at the end of 2008 and into 2009, it all went down in flames and I had to find all new business. At first I thought everybody was doing the same thing I was, marketing their asses off; but then I found that wasn’t happening, that most journalists didn’t know how to market themselves and they were freaking out, losing their houses. So that’s why the blog started.
The fact is, creatives are going to be increasingly outsourced in the future. I ended up well-positioned to keep advice rolling out, because people are going to keep needing it. The outsourcing side is just going to keep growing, as companies keep downstaffing, using freelancers, discovering that works just great…. and then they don’t rehire. Every study that’s done shows there’s going to be more and more freelancing. It’s job security forever — it’s recession-proof, because there are opportunities when the economy’s up, or when it’s down.
And from freelancing into…. publishing? What’s the story there?
Once upon a time, I was blogging for Entrepreneur, and I got approached by a UK publisher to write some chapters for an American version of the concept “How They Started” (how 25 companies got their start). I wound up writing about eleven chapters, so they gave me a co-byline. They were able to get the book into Hudson News, and I was so excited. But then they ended up not doing anything with it, didn’t even promote the book, which was depressing.
Then I was approached by another company for their series, a pocket business owner’s guide, how to start your business on a shoestring. I liked the idea of doing a solo print byline, and I wanted to do that while you still can — because I’m not sure how much longer that’s going to be anything — and I thought I could do that fairly easily, since I had so much work I’d done already on that topic. I knew I’d have to market it myself, but in the end they were useless too. For example, at one point I had an offer to speak on a panel at a small business owners’ convention, and I thought, “Hey, I’ll bring a case of books to sell.” But I couldn’t get anyone at the publishing company even to return my email, to sell me a box of my own books.
I did talk to some of the other authors in that series, and the win was a guy who’d written about how to earn money as an artist. He’d managed to get copies of his book in a chain of art stores, at the checkout. These things, I think, are the biggest win when you can pour yourself into selling your book. But I didn’t have time to do that.
Right. By then, in 2013, you were already two years deep into Writer’s Den, you were writing full-time for many companies, you were still doing freelance coaching, and don’t you have kids?
I do! And the thing was, I had so many other revenue opportunities from other parts of my business, that it didn’t make sense to pour more time into [marketing that book]. They paid me an advance. But the royalties are so tiny, you’re doing it for a pittance, all based on the idea that you’re going to sell a lot of copies. That, to me, is a typical print-book deal with a traditional publisher. You get a really tiny advance that in no way covers the time you’re going to spend writing it — I’m talking about nonfiction here — in the hopes that you’re going to sell it. And you’re thinking they know how to sell books. And you’re WRONG.
I put together a list of business bloggers to [approach with my book], and I asked to see my publisher’s contacts list, so I wouldn’t duplicate their efforts. When she finally gave it to me, it was a list of the “Top Ten Business Magazines.” And that was it.
Well, I went into those two print opportunities wanting to learn about how to put out a book, and I did. I came out of that experience with the conclusion that I should stick to my own ebooks.
Now, I did put out an ebook a long time ago, back when I didn’t know anything. I’ve done a post about that, the million things I did wrong. I priced it too high, I didn’t market it. So I decided to retire that book, and I put it on a half-price sale. And I sold more of it than I had sold in three years. I discovered that “I’m going to make this book go away” is a terrific sales angle.
I then did a new book, which I did on Amazon only, and the all-in KDP program. I wasn’t very thrilled with that. It was a 99 cent ebook, so it was priced right, but you just get so little in royalties. You also have the problem that you don’t know who your buyers are.
So we came up with a concept for ebooks last year. My idea for 2014 was to convert a series of Writer’s Den bootcamps into four ebooks. The big thing I learned is the easiest way to sell books is to have many books. Selling one book is nearly impossible. You’re looking for the moonshot, the first Harry Potter book, where nobody knows it yet, and everybody finds it, and loves it, and wants to read it…. Everybody’s looking for the moonshot. That’s why you need more than one book. Then it all becomes really easy.
But back to process. I was thinking “instant ebooks.” I thought, we’ll slap the transcripts together, clean up the um’s and uh’s, and that would be it. But I tested that on my audience, and it was completely rejected. So my admin edited it, I edited it, and I hired a professional editor to edit it, and that became our process: three sets of eyeballs. Go through them, clarify things, shrink things down, eliminate repetition, clean up the grammar. We learned there was a big difference between talking and what you want to see written down.
And I invested a decent amount of money in them. What I wanted to do was sell them on my website until I hit break-even on my production process, which was like $1500.
What about Amazon?
Amazon is an ancillary part of my bookselling world. We tend to do things like, first put it on sale at my site only at half-price, then put it at full price but bundled where you get a bonus ebook, then it goes to the price it will be on Amazon, and it goes up on Amazon. Then we solicit those earlier buyers for reviews, because I’m compiling a list of everyone who has bought it. I own my buyers, and that has made all the difference. My thought was, Why should I give Amazon money for customers I’m sending them from my own email list?
I then create sales tools, so people who buy it on Amazon need to come to my site. Come and enter your email so you can get the free accompanying workbook, for example. You need to have a thing, so people from Amazon will come over. Like a bonus chapter, an extra interview. So at the end of your book, you have this thing that says, Come over to my site. Then you get to know who your readers are. You need more, because to make real money, you need more than this one thing that costs $5. You need something else.
I can’t emphasize enough that people should not be too reliant on Amazon. They need to be creative. I hear from people all the time who say, “I put out my ebook and nothing happened!” or, “I wrote my novel, and now I’m going to start blogging to promote it!” I don’t want to be the one to tell them they did that in the wrong order.
You need to think about what you can do to get people excited about your book. You want to think of a marketing schedule to create multiple inflection points for people to get excited about it. So we do bundle sales. We do half-price exclusive, subscriber-only sales. We do “It’s going away!” sales. We did a special where everyone who bought it at full price in the first week got in on a consultant call. When you do a live thing, you can also give away a recording of that thing as another something.
You’ve said the book is not the product; the book points you to the product.
Exactly. More and more people are realizing that once you create a fictional world, if you create more in that fictional world, people will eat it up. To fiction writers, I say, is there a minor character you could blow a story out of that people could buy for two bucks? What else can you get out of this? You’ve spent a lot of energy creating this world. How much mileage can you get out of it?
Think about your audience. What else would they like about this? What else would they buy from you? Think about having a conclave of your followers, where they could get together and geek out on it, your own comicon.
So talk to the writer who’s put her body and soul into her book, and she’s super excited to get a table at Barnes & Noble to do a signing…. and nobody shows up.
That’s why I talk about multi-author events. I did one with a bunch of other authors, and sold 1,000 of my books at that event. Here in Seattle, there’s a series called “Wage Slaves,” where they put together multi-author readings, curated by a friend of mine, Michelle Goodman. And they are packed. DO THAT. Get together with other authors in a similar genre and do a multi-author, fun event. Serve food. Stop doing these one person, “I show up at my local bookstore, and it’s sooo sad….” events. That is not what you want to do. You’ve got to make it more happening, give it a theme, get together with others. You’ve got to stop thinking of other writers as the competition. Band together and sell more books!
Chris Brogan taught me that social media is supposed to be just that, social. People don’t just want fifty ads for your stuff. Let them get to know you.
To the people who do free giveaway cycles on Amazon: stop doing that. It’s a stupid strategy. I’m with the people who say “99 cents is the new free.” The point of giving it away is to capture emails and have future buyers, but at Amazon you don’t do that. So give it away on your own site to people whose emails you get, to those who are your own loyal people. They deserve a free copy. On Amazon you want to qualify buyers. There are people who will only get free ebooks; you don’t want those.
People have to get over the myth that, “I’m going to pop this on Amazon, and Amazon will send me thousands of buyers and I’ll be set for life.” That is not going to happen. Or, “I’m going to crowdfund the production of my book. I know no one, but random people are going to come on Kickstarter and give me money.” I actually wrote a Forbes post called, The Myth of Magical Crowdfunding, how people dream of how these mass platforms are going to help them. But they are only going to help you if you’ve already built your own marketing machine.
Thank you for daring to dip your toes into the shadows of the fiction world! This has been awesome. Thank you so much.
This was fun!