Ask the Authors: The Business of Writing

 

Author at Work

 

Being an author in this day and age means that we do so much more than just write stories. It used to be that a fiction author would write book, then write one or more cover letters and send them out to publishers, (or agents), and if said author was lucky enough to catch a publisher’s eye, a contract would be signed and, (hopefully), a nice big juicy advance would be recieved. (Once the author locks onto an agent, they take over introducing your work to publishers.)The author would then work with the editor assigned by the publisher until the book was honed to perfection, and then the book would be seemingly magically produced and the publisher would launch a marketing campaign. The author might have to make some appearances for the promotion, but other than that, the author’s job would be pretty much done and it would be time to work on the next book. Following the path of traditional publishing has never been easy, but the author did his or her part, writing, and the business end of the endeavor was handled by the publisher.

Today’s authors have it even more difficult, because self-published authors, or even those who hook up with a small independent press, take the business end of writing onto their own shoulders. Modern day authors are expected to run the gammut, writing the book and then getting it edited, formatted, and selling it too. The tools and skills needed to do this are probably not in your writer’s tool box, so we must venture out into the land of marketing and promotion, or hire out these tasks. Either way it is our job as authors to see that these things are done. 

Why do you think some authors sell well and others don’t?  

Jordan Elizabeth: Of those I know, the ones who sell the best are the ones who put in a lot of money for marketing.  They believe in their stories and really get the word out about their books.

Carol Riggs: Some authors are really good at marketing! They have the business brain along with a writer’s brain. Kudos to them; I’m not one of them. But also, some frankly don’t do well because they don’t take the time to make their writing the best it can be with revision and serious editing. They’re in too much of a hurry to be published. The ones who do the best take the time to write a good story and present it in a professional way. Also, if their cover nails their genre and is a strong image, those things go a long way. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but readers do select books by their covers.

How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books? 
Jordan Elizabeth: The publishers do the editing and book covers, but I do all the marketing.
Carol Riggs: I designed the covers for my JUNCTION 2020 series; they’re all designed even though only two have been so far published. I have an arts degree, so that helps. The rest of the marketing and promo is up to me for those books, which means I haven’t done much because I’d rather write—lately I’ve been focusing on writing my new sci-fi. With my other, traditionally published books, my publishers did the bulk of the marketing and promo, which I really appreciate!
Cynthia Vespia: I do everything myself. I’m a one-woman show. Is it easy? No. But it’s all I have at the moment. In the past I’ve hired PAs and book promo tours but they all left a lot to be desired. If you’re a new author and you’re thinking of hiring someone to do promotion for you I say tread lightly. There’s a lot of people looking to just take your money with little to no return. So that’s a big reason I do a lot of my own promotion.
Chris Barili: Marketing and promo, and I don’t do nearly enough of them. They just don’t interest me, so writing pulls much harder on my heart strings. And thus, I’m not GOOD at either marketing or promotion.
Digital publishing really changed the rules of the game initially, but it seems the market is adjusting and print sales may be on the rise again. In Author Earnings’ Print vs. Digital Report, they compared digital sale”s on Amazon and print sales on Bookscan. In their research, while print sales still lag behind those of their digital counterparts, print brings in more overall revenue. This may have something to do with the fact that print books are generally priced higher than ebooks, but the numbers are interesting none-the-less.
Digital vs. Paper Books
How do you see recent changes in this digital world we live in affecting your writing as a business (positive or negative)?  
Jordan Elizabeth: In a way, its good, because people are buying ebooks.  The bad way is that now they are looking at other forms of entertainment, such as movies and YouTube videos.
Carol Riggs: I think it’s becoming more difficult for an author’s book to be seen in the ebook world, because many writers are choosing to self-publish their books. It’s overwhelming! A book really has to stand out and be unique in order to catch a reader’s attention.
Cynthia Vespia: It’s good and bad. The good is rather than continue to get doors slammed in your face because “it’s not the right fit” you can put your work out there yourself immediately and be the captain of your own ship. The bad is that EVERYONE is doing that now. You have people who have never thought about being a writer before publishing books because it looks so simple. It’s not simple, it’s a business like anything else. And in order to be a successful business you have to market yourself within the vast sea of books and authors that are out there now. You learn to navigate the waters of the digital world and try not to hit the rocks or sink to the bottom.
Chris Barili: I think the evolution of the digital world has both positives and negatives for Indie authors. There are infinitely more opportunities for publication and success, but the perils of falling into obscurity are also there. The fiction market is flooded now, and thus it is difficult to stand out. I think e-books are an amazing help for writers, as they allow our readers to take our stories everywhere. Stacks of them, all stuffed on a tablet.
Margareth Stewart: I see them as positive. There are changes in all fields every single day, no matter which area we work with. Nowadays, we have paper books and the whole tradition of printing industry living together with the advance of the digital market and Ebooks. Besides that, the revolution of audio books has just started. Once, I heard the following phrase which I reckon as very smart – “It is not because lifts and escalators were invented that we do not use stairs any longer”. The same I apply to books, “the more, the merrier”. I have published printed books and eBooks and both have advantages and disadvantages. I love printed books, but the distributions and the high costs of international shipping are making it difficult for people to access them, therefore eBooks are an option. The major global change in publishing industry does not seem to lay in its format – but in the possibility of self-publishing. This change of power also brings different perspectives – one of them is that the reader is now in the center of the whole process.

Do you think print books are on the way out? Print or digital? Which do you prefer and what are the advantages or disadvantages of each?

Cynthia Vespia: No. Print books will be here for a long time. Too many people, including myself, prefer holding an actual book in their hands.

Chris Barili: No, in fact, sales of print books have surged lately, though mass market paperbacks are out and trade paperbacks are in. E-book sales have leveled off lately. I think we’ll see both continue to share the market. I know I buy both, and I think other people do too.

It only makes sense to get your book out there in as many formats as possible. In the article, “You Can Succeed in the Marketplace as an Independent Author” on the Book Baby Blog, Steven Spatz points out that “independent authors who choose not to publish print books are severely limiting their potential sales because they’re willfully neglecting 30 percent of the market. Same thing with eBooks, especially given the report’s emphasis on self-published authors’ success in the eBook market.” I would take it farther in saying that with the recent growth of the audio market, audio books are quickly becoming a viable option, offering a lucretive avenue to increase book sales. 
Have any of your books been offered in audio format?  If so, how successful do you think this was in increasing your book sales? What was your opinion of the overall experience?
Cynthia Vespia: Not yet but I’m working on getting my books on audio as well. It is a great way to gain more exposure for your work. In this world everyone is so busy all the time they may not have the chance to sit down and read from a book, but if they can pop on an audio book in the car or at the gym then they most certainly will.
Chris Barili: Not yet, but I’m told an anthology I’m in will be done in audio format soon. I’m very excited about it.
Margareth Stewart: Not yet, although I do hope they will be soon. I think audio books are a major global influence and people are prone to listening much more than reading nowadays. They can listen to audio books while they are exercising, driving to work, travelling, taking buses, while they are waiting for something, walking, etc. I have been listening to audio books quite often and I simply love them. In the past, there were stories and novels which were read in radio programs before the outcome of television, and people loved them. Some of the largest publishers are making audio books available in their platforms and there are also mobile apps for download. “Whatever…if it is telling a story, it is worth it”. I always imagine the benefits audio books will bring to blind people, elderly who have reading difficulties, children with disabilities and so on.

Let’s talk about writing organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Western Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Horror writers’ Association, or smaller, local organizations like the one I belong to, Pike’s Peak Writers group, who put on an annual conference each year, or the even more local writing group The Fifth Monday Writers out of Chaffee County. Are these organizations helpful to authors and in what ways?

What benefits do belonging to writing organizations bring? Do they help to bring readers or do their benefits regard craft and promotion? Do you think size matters?

Chris Barili: I think the primary thing we gain from such organizations is a sense of professionalism. Being around others who write keeps you focused, and reminds you that this is a job, first and foremost. That’s easy to lose track of if you’re locked away in your writing cave day after day.

Like it or not, we do judge books by their covers. The cover is the first thing any reader sees, whether in an advertisement or on the book store shelf, or in the Amazon line up on their site. If the cover needs to grab their attention, or your book will just hang out on the shelf, unread. You may have a killer story, but if you can’t interests readers enough to pick up your book, no one will ever know. As mentioned earlier, not all authors are artists or photographers, (although some are), and designing cover art may be outside of their skill set. Let’s Ask the Authors to see how our panel members handle cover art.

What do you do for cover art? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?  
Jordan Elizabeth: Each press uses an in-house cover artist.  I don’t have a say in who does my covers, although I do get a bit of a say in how they turn out.
Bottled Carol Riggs: I have three books out with traditional publishers, and they provided the cover art. I was able to input a bit of feedback in the details, but not a lot. Luckily, I happened to end up with awesome covers for THE BODY INSTITUTE, THE LYING PLANET, and BOTTLED. I was going to hire someone to do the cover art for my JUNCTION 2020 series, but decided to do them myself, with the advice of a graphic artist friend who gave me Photoshop and design tips; that helped a lot.
KarmaCoverButton copy
Cynthia Vespia: I do all of my own cover art unless I need a specific style. For instance, the figure drawing for the character of Karma on my Silke Butters Superhero Series needed to look like a comic book. That isn’t my style, so I hired an artist to draw the image. But otherwise, I set the layout, fonts, etc. myself. I usually use clipart and manipulate it to what I’m looking for, keeping genre in mind. I also have to say that as a cover designer I can’t stand cookie cutter prefab! Every story is unique and should have a unique cover to match that.
SmotheredChris Barili: For my self-published work, I use Michelle Johnson at Blue Sky Design. She’s amazing, and priced well. Obviously, for Smothered, Winlock used their own artist. For a PNR anthology I’m writing for, we’re all using the same artist, and similar covers, just with slight variations. I have zero visual art skills, so I am slave to those who do.
While for many, we just want to get our books out there and have people read them, you have to go about it as you would any other business if you want to make money. Reviews are wonderful, but they don’t pay the bills. The changes to the publishing industry which came with the digital world have expanded the role of author to emcompass all the duties which fall into the publishing realm. Whether you decide to DIY or hire out these duties, it falls to author, at times, even when you have a publisher. As more and more authors are self publishing, an author needs to be able to do it all. Be sure to catch next week’s segment of Ask the Authors, when our panel members will discuss building an author platform. 

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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One Comment on “Ask the Authors: The Business of Writing”

  1. […] the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of […]


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