Would You Invest In You?

I spent the last hour or so writing a potential query letter for an agent.

For the uninitiated a query letter is essentially a sales pitch you send to someone (an agent) who has the contacts with publishers to get you a contract to publish your book. So in the non-publishing world this would be like your cover letter and resume.

Here’s who I am. Here’s what I bring to the table. Are you interested enough to see more or talk?

(And, yes, you don’t always need an agent to get a publishing contract nor do you always need a cover letter and resume to get a job. But for this discussion…)

It was an interesting experience.

Because on my side of the table I can see my own potential. I was writing this query because I have an existing series which I think could sell well through a trade publisher based on how and where it currently sells. There’s definitely unexploited value there that I can’t tap into myself.

(I’ll note here for any writers that querying without an unpublished book is generally not done, but I was willing to take that chance because if you never ask the answer is always no, right?)

So I wrote the query.

But then I switched perspectives and looked at it from the viewpoint of an agent.

And, well…

Hm.

I had to ask myself, would I want to represent this client? Would this query excite me? Are those numbers worth sitting up and taking notice?

And would I be comfortable selling an author as a fantasy author who I know also writes mysteries, romance, and any non-fiction that seems to pop into their head? How do I market that author? Can the publisher rely on them to stick with this genre? Will they play well with what’s expected of them?

And are those sales numbers really strong enough to be interesting? I mean, sure, great, good for you for selling your ebooks at $7.99.

But…How loyal are those readers who made it through that entire series? Are they excited enough about this author that the author would be worth taking on? Will this project have any buzz? Any excitement? Or do people just read and move on?

And I have to say…Sitting on the other side of the table, I wasn’t all that impressed.

On the non-fiction side, sure. Great. I was already approached by a publisher this year and for good reason with those titles. And I could spin a pretty story there. But this one…

Hm.

It was an interesting exercise to go through. To sit down and try to think through how I’d sell myself to my target audience.

And I think it’s worth doing for anyone, whether it’s for a book contract, a job, or a date.

Ask yourself, does what you have to offer make you appealing to your target?

If not, what needs to change? What are you missing and how can you fix it?

Or do you need to shift focus? Because you will never meet their requirements so why waste that time and energy pursuing something you will never get, because you know that if you were them you wouldn’t say yes to you. So why expect them to say yes when you wouldn’t?

Like I said, an interesting experiment.

(Then again, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. And it’s easy to talk yourself out of an opportunity through fear. So maybe think about it to strengthen your position as much as possible, but then try anyway.)

 

 

A Talk Worth Listening To

KKR posted the footage of the talk she gave at 20BooksTo50K this year and I think it’s well worth listening to for every aspiring creative. The link below is to her website which has the YouTube link because I also think her business posts are worth following as well.

https://kriswrites.com/2019/11/30/my-talk-on-perfection-at-20books/

One of the two quotes I wrote down from the talk is worth mentioning:

“If everybody loved your story, it’s mediocre.”

I will admit I make the mistake of reading my reviews. Even though I have seen time and time again that they don’t drive my sales. They might convince someone on the fence one way or the other, but honestly I do not believe that most people buy or don’t buy my books because of the reviews.

And I think the myth that a certain number of reviews gets you Amazon promotion is wrong. That’s misunderstanding cause and effect. If you organically get enough sales to generate a certain number of reviews then sure that may catch Amazon’s attention. But the reviews without the sales? No.

Anyway. Because I make that mistake, one of the things I have to remind myself of is this:

My books are not for everyone. This is especially noticeable in fiction. Theme, voice, style, all of that plays into whether or not someone will like a book. (With non-fiction it’s more a question of whether the book met the person’s knowledge level although style still comes into play.)

And in the same way that not everyone likes me as a person (I’m a licorice personality, you either like me or you really don’t), not everyone will like my books.

Which means it’s dangerous to look at the negative reviews and act on them. Because those are not my readers. Those are the people who’d meet me in real life and want to change me. They’d tell me I’m too loud or too opinionated or too full of myself. Or that I shouldn’t follow my own path. Or that I should dress more “appropriately” according to whatever standard they live by.

In real life I’ve long ago dismissed those people. You don’t like me? Eh. Okay. Life is too short to try to twist myself into someone else’s ideal. I like who I am. I like my life. I’ll keep on it with it, thanks.

But with writing it’s harder to be dismissive because I’m trying to sell what I write to other people. And there is this temptation to write something that makes you likeable. That everyone can agree is “good.” Even though I know from my own reading that there are hugely successful authors I love and hugely successful authors I can’t stand.

I know the world allows for a vast range of writing (and people) to succeed. But the struggle to keep other people’s opinions away from my writing is very, very real.

I don’t do critique groups anymore for that reason and am very comfortable with that decision because most are the blind leading the blind, and I’ve seen talented writers rewrite a novel every single time someone else offers an opinion to the point that they never make it past that first novel, which is a tragedy.

But ignoring the reviews is one I still struggle with. Someday I’ll get there and stop reading them. In the meantime, the other quote I wrote down from that talk was, “My book. It’s good. Screw you.”

Haha. Easier said than lived, but a good reminder. The reason each of us has a chance to succeed at this is because no one else can write what we write in the way we write it. As long as we embrace our individuality, that is.

 

Good Advice from Patricia C. Wrede

As always, Patricia C. Wrede has wise things to say. If you’re a writer or interested in pursuing your passion in some other way, I highly recommend reading her blog post from today, Getting Into It.

Basic idea of the post is that you have to embrace all aspects of your chosen path if you want to succeed at it.

The last few Strengths coaching cohorts I handled had a lot of authors who were high Relators but not high Woo or Significance or Competition. What that basically means is they were people who don’t derive energy from interacting with large groups of people. There’s no desire to win others over (Woo) or to be in the spotlight (Significance) or to win (Competition). They have the few people who really matter to them, maybe another dozen who they’re close to, and that’s basically it.

They just want to write their books and have enough people love those books so that they can make a living at it. Which means that a lot of the very vocal self-publishing advice doesn’t feel comfortable for them. They don’t want to spend hours of their day on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and all the other places that authors can go to interact with the world.

They don’t want to build a base of superfans. At least not the type who want to know everything about them. (And honestly the idea of people who are that interested in their lives is a little uncomfortable to them.)

But that doesn’t mean they can avoid publicity.

So when you’re one of those authors (like I am), you have to find other ways of reaching your audience that are sustainable for you.

Click ads work well for me. (They’re a good choice for someone with high Strategic or Analytical Strengths.)

It’s basically like saying, “Here’s a book I think you’d like” or “Here’s a book that solves your problem” and then getting out of the way and letting the customers buy it.

My readers don’t buy my books because they like me as a person, they buy my books because the books meet their need. At this point I’ve sold over 7,500 copies of Excel for Beginners and not received a single fan mail on that title. The few emails I have received were asking for additional advice or information. And that’s okay with me. They had a need, I met that need. And I met it well enough they went on to buy other books by me if my also-boughts are any indication.

For other authors click ads won’t work well because they won’t have that ability to analyze or adjust as the ads change. But that doesn’t mean they have to establish a Facebook group of fans that they interact with every day and send a weekly newsletter.

They can instead form close relationships with other authors who they then work with on joint promotion. Or they can turn it on for a few days and go to a conference where they charm people one-on-one.

And in self-publishing there are even more options available to that type of author that aren’t available to trade published authors.

Like rapid release schedules. Release often enough that you stay visible to new readers and keep the interest of the ones you’ve already found.

Or price promotions. Let Bookbub be the one that attracts all the readers and then occasionally pay to use their list to reach new readers. That works, too.

You can’t avoid the need to market your product if you want to do this as more than a hobby. But you can do that marketing in ways that fit with your personality. (And, yes, maybe that means the path is longer or slower. But at least it’s one you want to be on.)

Time for NaNoWriMo

I have never in fact participated in NaNoWriMo because I’m not motivated by prizes, competing with others, joining groups, or by someone cheering me on. My motivation is simply to get shit done. (Which is why I have 105 perfect tournament crowns from Microsoft Solitaire tournaments so far this year. Someone send help. I need an intervention.)

This year, though, I’ll be doing what NaNo requires and in the month of November, which is writing the first draft of a short novel in the space of a month.

BTW, for a good general post on Nano and writing check out Chuck Wendig’s NaNo post for 2019.

In preparation for starting this next novel (otherwise known as the procrastination stage), I’ve been doing some thinking.

This will be my 12th novel. And the fifth in this particular series. And I gotta tell ya, I think I’m just now reaching the “you know that you don’t know it” level of writing. After eleven completed novels.

Stop and think about that for a second. How many hours of doing this thing have I put in so far and I’m just now starting to see glimmers of what all is required to make it work well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think my earlier novels are good and enjoyable reads and, for the most part, the reviews back me up on that. People don’t always like what I choose to write about but they generally read to the end before telling the world about it.

But the issue I’m finally becoming concerned with is this: the consistency of the reader experience. Not just writing one good novel or one good series, but writing novels and series that consistently meet the needs of a particular group of readers.

To be really good at this you have to hit enough of the right buttons each and every time so that your particular group of readers walks away satisfied and comes back for more the next time you publish. That is not easy.

It is in fact exponentially harder than writing a single novel. And if you don’t do it well, you end up building on a shaky foundation. A reader thinks, “Well, that book was alright, I guess, so maybe I’ll read another one by them.” That is not the type of readership you want.

Because that kind of reader is the type of reader you will eventually lose if you continue on the way you are. In a hot genre with readers desperate for new material this could take some time. You could probably have a successful series or even two, but it will eventually catch up to you.

So it isn’t about writing a good novel. At least not long-term. It’s about creating a good reader experience across all of your books. And that is much, much harder to do.

And with that cheerful thought, I guess I’m off to “win” my own little NaNo.

Essential Writing Skills

This post is for those authors who want to make money at their publishing someday whether that be via a traditional publisher or self-publishing. If your core interest is in getting your stories down on paper, then carry on.

But for those who want to make money at this somehow, there are some essential skills you’re going to need to have and it’s important to work on them alongside the writing.

First, you need to be resilient and adaptable. This industry, on both the self and trade publishing sides, changes constantly. Today there’s talk that maybe Amazon shifted how it treats borrows from KU for book ranking. (If so, it’s about frickin’ time IMO because someone borrowing a book for free is not and never has been the equivalent of them paying money for a book.)

Sometime earlier this week AMS randomly decided to add Ad Groups to ads which changed where you see your list of target keywords. That was after adding two new markets and then removing the links for those markets from one primary location and changing where billing and other items are found on the page.

A few weeks back a publisher with a decent reputation stepped in it when they took on an author who had been banned from publishing direct on Amazon. And just this week at least one big-name editor was abruptly let go, impacting every single one of their authors.

No matter what path you choose, things will constantly be shifting under your feet. You need to understand that and prepare for it and not be knocked out of commission when it happens.

Second, you need to understand business and numbers and contracts. In a group I’m in where some trade published authors post there was mention of how an author was screwed over by a basket accounting clause in their contract. If you’re going with a publisher and you don’t know what that is, you need to learn. That and all the rest of it.

A while back a publisher contacted me about potentially distributing some of my titles. Sounded great until they sent me a publishing contract that paid no advance and would’ve taken all my foreign language rights for free. If you as an author can’t see a situation like that for what it is and push back, you will get screwed.

And if you aren’t paying attention to profits and are only focused on number of units sold or nice reviews, you won’t last long-term.

I don’t expect authors to take things to the extent I do. (Yesterday I got bored and performed a multi-variate regression analysis to see which ad options I was using were actually driving sales and realized that two of them I was using and thought had been doing well for me weren’t.) But you do need to have some sort of a clue about how this industry works and what is happening with your own business.

Finally, you need perseverance. Sure, some authors hit it out of the park with their first book. And it’s all shiny happy times from that point forward. But not most authors. If you need an example, look at George RR Martin’s career. He left novel and short story writing for a while to work in television. He switched genres. This massive success he’s seeing now? Took decades to achieve. And required him to dust himself off more than once along the way.

I’m sure there are other traits authors need to succeed at writing that have nothing to do with the story or how it’s written (including a good bullshit detector), but these were the ones that were on my mind this morning. So there you have it. The writing is just what you need to play the game. You need far more than that to stay in and succeed.

 

Excel, Word, and PowerPoint Essentials

Excel Essentials 20190222  Word-Essentials-Kindle  PowerPoint-Essentials-Kindle

I published Excel Essentials, the collection of the four individual titles in the Excel Essentials series a while back. At the time I didn’t publish the ebook version on Amazon, but that is now available on Amazon for anyone interested.

And because I am also done with the Word Essentials series and the PowerPoint Essentials series at this point, those too are now available as standalone titles. Note that Word Essentials and PowerPoint Essentials only contain two titles each so are that much less expensive than Excel Essentials which contains four titles.

Also, for at least the next week or so Word Essentials and PowerPoint Essentials will not be available on Apple but they will be there soon. (I’m changing how I distribute my books there and it takes a little longer than I’d expected.)

The books are all available in ebook, paperback, and hard cover but it may take a few days for them to reach all the stores.

For those of you who already own the individual titles (Word for Beginners, Intermediate Word, PowerPoint for Beginners, Intermediate PowerPoint, etc.) there is no new material in these books, it’s just another way to provide the information for those who know they want it all at the time of initial purchase.

As of now I’m done with writing new material on Microsoft Office, but if there’s something specific you want to see that I didn’t cover, let me know and if I think it’s within my skillset I’ll work on it. That’s actually how Excel for Budgeting and Mail Merge for Beginners both came to exist.

 

Holding a Fork Is Hard When You’re 2

I visited one of my best friends this weekend and she has a two-year-old. It was fascinating to watch the kid try to eat some sausages on his plate using a real fork. He was very determined to do it himself, but the experience or the motor coordination or whatever it is that someone needs to actually use a fork wasn’t quite there yet.

He tried everything. He put the fork tines-down into the sausage and tried to pull it apart that way. He put the fork sideways to the sausage and then used his fingers on the tines to push down from both sides. He was determined.

But he just wasn’t there yet. Finally his mother rescued him with ten seconds of effort with a fork and knife, making it look so so easy to cut up that sausage.

I tell you this story because it’s an important reminder that we don’t all come into this world fully-formed and capable of doing anything we want or anything anyone else can do. Often we have to try and fail and try some more and fail some more and keep trying even when someone else makes it look incredibly easy.

Writing is one of those tasks that works that way. There are so many moving parts to writing a good book that it’s almost impossible to list them all out. You think you have the list and then someone mentions another aspect of a good book and you have to add it on to the end of the list. And just knowing what’s required doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it.

When I first started this writing journey I figured I’d have it nailed down in five years. Most people I saw talk about their timelines took ten to fifteen years to get that first publishing contract, but of course I’d done really well in other aspects of my life so why wouldn’t I do really well in writing, too?

Well…

Eight years in and I’m finally willing to admit that it will probably take me a couple more years to really get to where I want to be to make this work. (I’m currently where I was in my first post-college job, net, but I expect more from myself these days than that.)

But every time I start to feel frustrated I’m just going to think about a little boy with a fork trying to figure out how to eat a sausage and remind myself that most skills in life require dedication and time to master. The key is to keep trying until you get there.