Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Business Rusch: Stand Up For Yourself

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Apr• 09•14

Business Rusch logo webA few weeks ago, at our weekly professional writers lunch, a writer mentioned a private listserve he’s on with other writers, all of whom are traditionally published. According to him, that list has been discussing an abusive editor, one who is tearing apart her bestsellers, making them revise their books repeatedly while telling them that they don’t know how to write.

I have been an editor off and on for a long time (with a healthy hiatus in the middle of my editing career), and I’ll be honest. As an editor and someone who has owned two publishing companies (and advised others), I usually shrug off comments like that from writers.

Some writers are such sensitive souls that telling them to change a comma results in three weeks of hysteria.

However, I knew the editor in question, and she went after me viciously in October of 2011. So viciously, in fact, that I immediately attempted to terminate my contract with the publishing company.

Let me tell you what happened, then let me tell you what I did, and then I will expand this essay into something everyone can use.

October of 2011 was a bad time for me. Our friend Bill Trojan had died, leaving us his massive and messy estate. My husband, who is my rock and my support and my everything (seriously), was working his way toward a stroke trying to deal with that estate.

My own health was declining for reasons we wouldn’t understand for another eighteen months. I had had to cancel most public appearances, including one that month.

Publishing in the United States was changing quickly, and it often felt like the ground was shifting under our feet. We had cash flow issues because of the estate (see the link above) and because we had started three new businesses before Bill died. My stress was off the charts.

I still managed, somehow, to write a novel that I was quite pleased with. For once, I managed to hit every note I had promised in the proposal that sold the novel. The novel was risky for its genre, but the editor had approved the proposal and all was fine—I thought.

Then on the afternoon of October 18, 2011, the editor called me from a conference I had had to cancel out of due to my health and the estate issues. I thought she was going to update me on a book the company had just published—sales figures or something—or maybe convey something about the conference.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the book I had turned in. She didn’t ask how I was (and remember, she knew that I couldn’t attend for health and personal reasons) or anything. Instead she lit into me and my work as if I were a beginning writer.

She told me that I couldn’t write very well. She told me I knew nothing about the genre I’d been publishing in for fifteen years. She told me that I might think I was a good writer, but I wasn’t, and I needed to shape up.

I was stunned as this torrent of abuse continued. It went on for fifteen minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. I should have hung up; I was too sick and emotionally exhausted to think of that option until after the call ended.

However, I had done what I always did with a business phone call. As the phone rang and the number appeared on the screen, I grabbed a yellow legal pad and pen and took notes. Even as she attacked me personally, I continued to take notes.

It’s a great habit, because it enabled me to go back and see that she had done similar things less blatantly in previous calls.

Midway through this last conversation, she said two things that truly caught my attention. The first was that she claimed that the genre I was writing in had a specific structure—this must happen on page 75, that must happen on page 125, this other thing must happen on page 150.

The entire genre isn’t that way. I know that as a long-time reader and writer in that genre. In that genre, as in many others, there subgenres that have that specific structure—and I refuse to write those books. I would never have signed on to do such a thing.

Then she told me that I did not follow my proposal. And unlike 75% of my traditionally published books, this time I had. So I knew she hadn’t read either the proposal or the book. I point-blank asked her, and she admitted that she hadn’t read either. She said that was what assistants were for.

That was when I hung up.

After crying for a while—no one can take that kind of personal attack without an emotional reaction—I drafted a letter to the publisher of the company. I cited everything the editor said in this and previous conversations, said I had concurrent notes so I wasn’t trusting a faulty memory, and then demanded to be released from my current contract.

Because I’ve been in publishing a long time, I did not do this angrily or stupidly. I told the publisher of this company that I would repay my advance and, on the book that was currently in production (not the one I had just turned in), I would repay all expenses the company had incurred to date.

Realize, I had just committed Dean and I to tens, if not a hundred, thousand dollars of expenses at that moment. We were in crisis ourselves, having financial issues because of the estate (long story, see the link above), and we were taking a huge gamble.

I say we, because of course, I had spoken to Dean before committing to this. I knew we could figure out how to make the financial side work–with a payment schedule, if need be. It was worthwhile to me to get out of the contract and leave this company immediately. Dean (fortunately) agreed.

In my letter to the publisher, I cited my credentials, my publishing history, and my business and financial history, so he knew who he was dealing with.

He knew this was not a bluff.

I also told him that his editor was not doing her job. She was having subordinates do much of the work for her, if not all of her work for her.

I sent the letter as an email and as a certified letter, then sat back to see what would happen next.

What happened was a prolonged negotiation with the vice president of the company, a much higher ranked person than the publisher I had initially addressed. I still had several books under contract, one in production, plus the one I had turned in, and three more to write. I was going to cancel the contracts on all of these and repay the advances.

He reminded me how expensive it was.

I told him that I would not work with a company that approved proposals and then turned down a book that followed the proposal to the letter. I also told him that I had been misled about the company’s focus. I had not realized that it expected me to follow rules of a subgenre I would never ever write in. I usually avoided companies and book lines that required such things, because that’s not how I write.

He assured me the company did not expect that. We went back and forth for some time, and came to an understanding. I would switch editors for the book in production and the book I had just turned in. I would have no contact with the first editor.

If I was still dissatisfied, we would part company before I started writing the next novel I had to finish for them.

The new editor was just fine. A gem, in fact.

The other editor—well, as you can tell from the beginning of this piece—she’s still with the company. She was demoted, and taken off the publicity circuit she had been on. She was no longer allowed to work through her assistants, but had to do the work herself.

As someone who has owned a business and who has dealt with writers for a long, long time, I understand why she wasn’t fired. Writers are socially inept creatures, and sometimes react weirdly to things. Dean and I have kicked several writers out of our workshops, mostly for behavioral issues (although at least two were kicked down the road for breaking the law while attending the workshop—and I don’t mean workshop law. I mean state and federal law).

In the absence of other complaints, I, as an employer, would not have fired this woman. I would have monitored her to see if she had done it again.

Which brings me back to that professional writers’ lunch a few weeks ago. I asked the writer who is on this listserve what the writers who were being abused by this woman had done.

He said they hadn’t done anything. They were signing up for more books and taking the nastiness—the you-can’t-write, you-are-worthless comments—and sucking it all up, trying to continue forward. And unsurprisingly, several were having trouble finishing novels.

I had to clarify: You mean no one has asked for a different editor? No one has withdrawn her book? No one has left the company?

He said that a few left when their contracts were up, but no, most of them just continued.

And that, my friends, is why this editor is still employed. I may not be the only one she’s hurt, but I am one of the few (if not the only one) who refused to be treated like this in a place of business.

If this were the case of a single editor, I wouldn’t write this blog. Here are a handful of examples that I’m personally familiar with:

•The acquiring editor for Writer A moved to another company. The new editor loathed the book she inherited. Instead of passing the book to another editor, she demanded rewrites—ten of them over three years. That ended when this new editor moved to another company, and yet another new editor came on board. The latest editor noted that Writer A had missed her deadline not only for the first book, but for the other three contracted (ignoring all the revisions the writer had done), canceled the contract and demanded the company be repaid in full.

•The company that Writer B, a #1 New York Times bestseller and a beloved name in the genre, had worked with for twenty years got bought out by another company, and in the mess that followed, Writer B got assigned a new editor. The new editor loathed the genre and thought Writer B was a has-been (even though her sales said otherwise). The new editor was unbelievably rude to Writer B. Writer B was reassigned to new editors twice. Each editor was in her twenties and fresh out of college. Neither of them treated Writer B with respect. Writer B finally decided to retire from writing, having enough money in the bank to live out her days without financial worry.

•Writer C, a brand-new writer, sold a trilogy for a mid-six figure advance. The vice president who bought the book assigned an editor to the project who was notorious for not working hard. That editor did not acknowledge receipt of Book One for a year, and finally handed out revisions after much pressure from Writer C’s powerful agent. Book One came out with a terrible cover, tiny print, and no promotion. The editor still hadn’t read Book Two or Book Three, even though they were on his desk. Finally, Powerful Agent demanded action. The vice president, citing the poor sales of Book One, canceled the contract and demanded repayment of the rest of the advance.

All of these things did not happen to just one writer. They’ve happened to many writers that I know of. I can site at least four examples for point one, a dozen for point two, and three in the past eight years for point three.

This kind of unsupervised behavior on the part of editors and the sales force in traditional publishing, this lack of respect for the people who actually supply the company and make it money, is common in the publishing industry.

And it doesn’t have to happen at all.

Writers do not stand up for themselves because they do not know how.

They also don’t stand up for themselves because they’re afraid they will be blacklisted. Never mind that it’s illegal for one publishing company to tell another company to blacklist a supplier, writers get threatened with that all the time.

Some writers now go around this ill treatment by publishing themselves. That’s all well and good until these writers run into something bad in their new business, and they still haven’t learned how to stand up for themselves.

There’s a good way to stand up for yourself and a bad way to do it.

The bad way? If I had called the publishing company in tears and told them that the editor had hurt my feelings. She had, but that was beside the point.

I couldn’t trust this woman to handle my books with the respect they deserved. If she spoke to me that way, how would she speak to the sales force about my books? How would she talk to the cover artist and the promotions department?

You need to think about these things. Such behavior is not an isolated incident. It happens all the time in many different industries. In publishing, when someone in charge of your book does not respect you or the book, it shows in the book’s treatment. I fired an agent of mine shortly after she told me her bestselling client wrote smut. It wasn’t literature, it was crap, but it sold, she said. And then she laughed.

She said that to me, another client, about a client who earned millions for the agency. Imagine how she talked to the client’s editor. Imagine how she talked about me.

Respect matters, and writers should demand it.

Reasonably.

How do you demand respect? I hate to say this, but you need to earn it. Not just with good writing, and not by being a good girl and sucking it up when someone speaks badly to you.

But by knowing your business inside out, backwards, and upside down. Only then will you understand what options are available to you.

If you negotiate and/or complain from a position of ignorance, you will be ignored.

For example, on a contract negotiation for a publishing business I owned, a writer hired an intellectual property attorney to vet the publishing house’s contract. That step was good. But the writer did not get the attorney to explain the clauses that the attorney objected to.

The attorney, doing his/her job properly, suggested changing most of the contract’s clauses to benefit the writer. Sometimes, what benefits one party in a contract harms the other party. That’s when negotiation begins.

Had the attorney handled the negotiation, all would have been fine, but the writer did the negotiation with a company employee (not me and not anyone else in legal or upper management). On most points, the writer got what he/she wanted.

On one point, however, the publishing company would not budge. Why? Because the language the attorney had given the writer did this: it changed the legal language of the contract to put all of the liability of publishing the writer’s work on the company. In other words, if this writer had plagiarized someone else, the only one who would pay for that plagiarism was my company.

I am convinced the writer had no idea what the writer was asking for, and unfortunately, the company employee (who did not have a law degree) did not explain the problem clearly. The writing was not purchased. It happens. The writer stood up for his/herself, but not in an effective way.

Similarly, had I gone to the publisher of the company I mentioned above and demanded to be released from the contract and demanded that I could keep the advance and  demanded that they had to swallow the money they had already spent on a book they had already sent out as advance reading copies, then the reaction I would have had from that vice president would have been very different.

I knew I was putting the company in a difficult position. I was willing to take a financial stake in what was going on, if they would just release me from the contract. That was the opening salvo of the negotiation. We went back and forth for a long time before coming up with something we could both live with.

I greatly respect that vice president. He did a fantastic job and, unlike the editor, was very respectful of me.

That’s what it comes down to, in my opinion.

Respect.

Writers rarely get the respect they deserve, particularly in traditional publishing. Writers should get respect as a co-business partner. Instead, they’re treated worse than the new hire fresh out of college.

I must say though, as someone who has been at every desk in publishing except that of agent, most writers do not demand respect.

They act like the writers on that listserve and take whatever comes at them. Most writers, in fact, don’t know enough business to know what their options are.

They also don’t know when they’ve run into a bad publishing situation and when they’ve run up against standard business practices.

Standard business practices in traditional publishing are very bizarre by the standards of other industries. Very few industries treat their suppliers with such regular and careless disrespect.

But there is a difference between casual disregard and true abuse, which was what happened to me with that particular editor.

So…how does a writer stand up for herself?

1. She knows her business. I say this damn near once a month. Understand copyright law. It’s the foundation for your writing business.  Buy the Copyright Handbook. Study it. Learn it. Make understanding all the nuances of copyright and trademark law one of your hobbies. Trust me, this is a lifelong process, since the law is constantly changing.

2. Understand contracts. Learn what you need to have in them to make them palatable for you. If you don’t understand a contract, then ask someone. If you think you understand a contract, make sure a trusted second reader with a legal eye looks at it. If you are in any kind of doubt, hire an intellectual property attorney and make him explain the contract to you clause by clause, implication by implication. Ask for the best case scenario if you sign that contract and, more importantly, the worst case.

3. Have an escape clause. Most contracts I signed in traditional publishing back in the pre-ebook days had an end date and/or a way to determine when that contract ended. This is changing in the modern publishing world—and that change does not benefit writers. Make sure anything you sign has a way out.

4. Make sure your publishing partner meets the terms of the contract. Most traditional publishers do not follow the terms of their own contracts. The royalty statements and payments often arrive months after the contractually mandated due date. In the old days, when those payments came through agents, it was impossible to know what was late and what was mismanagement on the agent’s part. Now, it’s pretty easy to figure out.

I’ve threatened dozens of times to cancel a publishing contract for late payment. I did it back in the old days so that I could get paid. Now I wish I had canceled some of those contracts, particularly with a company that refuses to revert the rights on one of my novels.

5. Be willing to walk away from a bad deal. Most writers think that because they have an offer, they have to take it. No, no, no, and no. That’s just the beginning. The contract needs to be signed by both parties before the deal is final.

6. Be willing to walk away at any point. Sometimes a relationship that seemed good turns bad. That’s why contracts should have termination clauses. Even if there isn’t one or a clear one, you can probably get out of the contract in one way or another.

7. When all else fails, negotiate a new deal for your release. Existing contracts can be amended and terminated, as long as both parties can come to an agreement.

8. STAND UP FOR YOURSELF. Seriously, people. Writers put up with things in their writing contracts and their writing business that they would never put up with in real life.

My philosophy has always been that the people around me treat me with respect. Yes, we can have heated arguments. Hell, we can even call each other names as long as we both know that underneath it all, we respect each other’s work and each other’s abilities.

I know that some people believe people who swear or use bad language are disrespectful. The most clean-spoken folks I know have been the most dirty business partners. They say one thing (very nicely) and then do another.

Look at the actions.

If the publisher promises but doesn’t deliver, why stay in business with that company?

Let’s look at the three examples above:

•In the rewriting instances (Writer A), at some point, the writers should have asked for a different editor. In their contracts, the writers should have had a maximum number of revisions specified, and if the book still wasn’t to the publishing house’s taste, then the writer and publisher could have parted ways without anyone repaying anything. Contract canceled.

•In the case of massive disrespect (Writer B), those writers should have gone up the food chain in the publishing house. In all of those cases, those writers were bringing millions of dollars to the company per year. You don’t think some vice president would notice that and solve the problem, like the vice president had done with me? Of course.

•In the case of Writer C (new writer), the writers should have asked for a new editor. If one wasn’t assigned, then again up the food chain the writer should have gone.

And note in all of these cases, I did not say that the writer should have the agent do it. Too many agents see themselves as partners with the publishers, not the writers, so the agents won’t do these things (even if they say they will).

I actually had one (so-called reputable) agent part ways with me because the publisher refused to negotiate a contract, so I didn’t take the deal. I wasn’t going to accept those terms. The agent told me I should, then when I didn’t, said that I would ruin his reputation. Um, no. It was my career and in theory, he worked for me.

That theory doesn’t work so much any more.

So rather than push someone else forward to defend you, do it yourself. First of all, you’ll feel better. Secondly, you’ll know it got done.

Look, folks. Your writing career is a career. And just as in your everyday life, if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will either.

Since this is a long post, I’ll be brief here.

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“The Business Rusch: Stand Up For Yourself” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch




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Free Fiction Monday: Sinner-Saints

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Apr• 07•14

Brash, outspoken, Lillian Hellman follows her own truth. Even when that truth costs her love. From the thirties, where she lived in sin with Dashiell Hammett, to the fifties, where her political aspirations lead her to the U.S. Senate, Hellman stayed true to her beliefs. But when the dark days of Communist blacklisting threaten everything Hellman has built, she must decide whether her truth will carry her, or if she will, as Hammett once warned, sell out her friends to save herself. In our world, Hellman found fame as a writer. In this alternate world, Hellman follows her politics to find a very different path.

Sinner-Saints by USA Today bestselling writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this site for one week only. It’s also available as an ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and in other ebookstores.

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 Sinner-Saints

 Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The free story will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, click on the links above. There’s another free story lurking somewhere around the site. Track the story down, read, and enjoy!

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The Business Rusch: How To Measure Success (Discoverability Part The Last)

Written By: Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Apr• 02•14

Business Rusch logo webEven though I posted a business blog on Tuesday, I couldn’t let a Thursday go by without a blog post. Especially since this week marks the fifth anniversary of the Business Rusch (and the business blog that came before it, The Freelancer’s Survival Guide). Yep, I’ve hit every single Thursday for five years, without a miss. Two-hundred-and-sixty posts.

That, my friends, is success.

But, weirdly enough, it’s not the kind of success I want to talk about in today’s blog.

I promised throughout the Discoverability series that I would discuss how you measure success at the end. If you haven’t read the series, then please, before you comment, click on this link and see if I covered the topic you want to bring up. Because chances are that, in the 22 different posts I’ve made in this series since November, I’ve covered what you’re going to say. We may not have agreed or we might have, but do me (and all the regular readers) the courtesy of looking before you type.

So, here’s the promised post on how you measure success for your promotions or your discoverability campaign. Throughout, I’ll state some general suggestions and then show you a specific from my own career in this past year.

Before I give you my list, add an early step. Figure out if you’re going to do any kind of promotion or if you’re going to let word of mouth happen and write the next book. (Most of you know that I recommend if your time is short to write the next book and forget all of this promotion stuff.)

How do you measure the success of that? Slowly. Patience is the watchword for this method.

If you continue to write and publish the next book, followed by the same routine for the next book and the next, eventually—over a period of years (not months), you’ll see a slow and steady increase in readership. Particularly if you have a static website so that your readers know what order the series is in or what other books you have (which is especially important for standalone titles).

Okay, you’ve decided for whatever reason that for your next book, you’re going to do a bit of promotion.

Here’s how you measure success.

1. Decide What You Want Out of Your Promotion Campaign

2. Figure Out How To Measure The Results (if you can)

3. Measure The Results at Various Points During and Post Campaign

4. Determine If the Campaign Is Worth Repeating

5. Make Notes About What You Learned—Good and Bad

Note I do not say anywhere in here that success is increased sales or that it’s in winning awards or anything that specific.

Success (or failure) is always based on your expectations of your campaign and nothing more. So let’s start there.

1. Decide What You Want Out of Your Promotion Campaign

This sounds so simple and so obvious, yet no one in publishing ever does it, not even the Big Boys. The Big Boys throw money at their bestsellers, but as I’ve said in previous posts, that money is spent in a wasteful and unconscious manner.

In fact, at our weekly professional writers lunch this past weekend, we were discussing the various campaigns that all of us had with our traditional publishers, and we realized that the publishers paid for those campaigns out of “advertising dollars.”

In other words, they had a big pool of promotion and advertising dollars, and they bought group promotions with that money.

But they never allocated the money to each individual book title. So, for example, that promotions campaign that I mentioned last week which Sourcebooks did on A Spy To Die For most likely never had the cost of the Kindle promotion charged against Spy. That cost just went into the overhead cost for the book.

(Speaking of which, I just received notification today that Sourcebooks will be doing another promotion soon using two of my books, and the question remains the same as it did last Thursday. Why? Clearly no one has thought of what the company gets from promoting old titles from an author who isn’t writing for them any longer.)

You, however, are running your own business. So you must allocate your advertising dollars per project. That’s how sensible businesses run anyway.

If you’re going to plan your promotions per title, then you do the same with the money you spend and the results you want. You determine everything per title—or, in some cases, per series.

Never ever do you do it as an overall expense, unless you’re promoting everything you’ve ever published. And if you’ve only published one or two things, you’re wasting your time and money; if you’ve published ten or more (as I suggested before you even start the things mentioned in this series), then you’re still wasting your time and money—unless all ten are in the same series (or maybe, just maybe, in the same genre).

Each promotion campaign needs a purpose beyond I want people to buy my book. (Or, the even less conscious: I want to sell millions of copies and die rich. Don’t we all? :-) )

Your promotion campaign needs a set purpose. You might want to increase your sales numbers. You might want to introduce your series to a new audience. You might want to enter a new market.

For example, here’s how I decided to participate in the Storybundle that just ended. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Fey series because I’m getting other books in newer series into print. I’ll be getting to the Fey after I complete a few other projects.

So the Fey wasn’t on my radar. Then Kevin J. Anderson asked me to take part in a major fantasy bundle with several bestselling fantasy writers. I had a choice here: I could have said no, because participating in a bundle takes time, and time is definitely something to measure along with cost in every promotion.

This one didn’t cost me any dollars, but I knew it would cost me hours. I decided the hours were only worthwhile if I got more than the income from the bundle out of it.

Being in a bundle with big name fantasy writers after my fantasy career dropped off the reader radar is a great idea. I could have chosen one of several standalone fantasy novels that I published between 1991 and 2001.

Instead, I chose the first book in the Fey series. I wanted readers to move through the series.

I would get four things out of this promotion.

A. I would get exposure for my fantasy writings

B. I would get some money from the bundle itself

C. I would get a halo effect from the readers of the first book who would (if I had done my job as a storyteller) move to the next book and the next.

D. I would get a push from the increased attention that would force me to write the Fey: Place of Power trilogy sooner rather than later.

I saw all four things as a huge positive, definitely worth the hours and work it took to promote the bundle.

Did I achieve all four? The bundle just ended last Wednesday. I got paid (always nice), we made some money for the Challenger Center charity (even better), and I’m starting to see a good halo effect on the other books. So I got two of the four, so far.

As for the other two, I don’t know yet. Did this raise the profile of the series? Maybe. Time will tell. Will the fans nag me to get the next book done? (More than those who were doing so before the bundle?) I don’t know, since most people haven’t made it through all seven novels yet. Again, time will tell.

This is why I say you must measure the result at various points during and after the campaign. But before I could measure, I needed to …

2. Figure Out How To Measure The Results (if you can)

It’s pretty easy to measure sales in indie publishing. You record the sales figures before the promotion, then look at those figures—on all pertinent sites—during and after the promotion. If you’re doing it right, the promotion is the only change you’ve made to that title during that promotion.

In other words, don’t run a BookBub ad campaign at the same time as a Storybundle. You can’t measure the halo effect from the bundle at the same time as the halo effect from the ad campaign.

When I say measure in all the pertinent areas, I mean it. For Storybundle, which is DRM free and on its own site, I knew that I wouldn’t see much of a halo for a couple of weeks. There were some very big names with ongoing fantasy series in that bundle and readers would read them first. Plus, the DRM-free aspect and independent site are important to my analysis as well.

Here’s how:

A lot of less adventurous readers aren’t going to try to download something from a site they’ve never used before. Even  fewer readers will download something that isn’t in their device’s store. (Kindle people often don’t upload a mobi file to their Kindle; they just buy from Amazon.)

In other words, the subset of fans (of all of the writers in that bundle) who buy electronic books, are willing to buy something outside of their device’s usual system, and are willing to buy from a site they’ve never used before, is pretty small.

In past bundles, I’ve seen the biggest halo effect in non-DRM stores. For example, after a bundle last summer with the first book in my Retrieval Artist series, the biggest halo I saw was on Smashwords, which is DRM free. Makes sense, right?

Fascinatingly, to me, the largest percentage increase in sales I’m seeing on this particular bundle right now is through Kobo, from Europe and Asia. This tells me that a wide swatch of the buyers of this bundle were from outside the US, and therefore outside of Amazon’s ecosystem.

As I said, sales are easy to measure. The bundle itself had sales, and the halo effect is starting. But how do I measure the increased exposure? And how do I measure the increased demand?

I could only measure the increased exposure during the bundle by the promotion the other writers were doing. And, with the exception of one writer, everyone in this bundle stepped up and did a lot of promotion. That’s all I can ask for as a participant. That meant that thousands of eyeballs that wouldn’t have seen my Fey series have at least heard of it.

One thing about exposure—it’s not measured in results. It can only be measured in repetition from various sources. So, of the ten authors who participated and all of the fans who promoted the bundle, other people besides those who bought the bundle did hear about my Fey series. I have a hunch—although I can’t prove—that the handful of increased sales I received on The Sacrifice in March and most of the sales of the paper books came because of the exposure, to people who would never buy from the Storybundle site.

However, unlike the halo effect that’s readily visible, I can’t see this result and measure it. I can only guess or perhaps hope.

The same with Point D, increased nagging from fans. Most people who bought the bundle haven’t read through the entire bundle yet. Of those people who bought the bundle, only a small subset will make it through all 7 books of my Fey series.

I won’t see any results from Point D for months. Which is why…

3. Measure The Results at Various Points During and Post Campaign

Some of my goals for that bundle won’t happen for months after the bundle. I won’t see the full halo effect for six months at least. So measuring it takes a long-term effort.

When you measure results over time, you can see how some promotions are not as successful as they initially seem.

For example, I just saw some figures from a heavily promoted New York Times bestselling writer. The writer’s highly discounted first novel sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The writer’s second and third novels sold only tens of thousands of copies. The writer’s most recent novel, which hasn’t been discounted at all, has sold less than 10,000 copies.

This tells me that the discounting worked—but not in the way the publisher wanted it to. Discounting encouraged people to try the first novel, but of those who downloaded the book, most either didn’t read it or didn’t like it. (I vote for didn’t read it—yet.)  One third returned for the next novels, probably when those novels were discounted.

This goes back to my blog post on types of readers. When you only promote to those who buy according to price, you’ll get return purchases—only when you have a discounted price.

You can see this in Amazon algorithms. Amazon has this nifty algorithm that shows up under this heading: Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought….  When you look at writers who sell a book or a bundle at $2 or less, you’ll see under that heading more books at $2 or less. Often, you’ll see a mix of authors in that list.

However, when you go to the pages for books of writers whose books aren’t on permanent discount, you’ll see that the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…. shows more of that author’s work. Or if the author doesn’t have a lot of books published yet, you’ll see similar books in the same genre.

To me, and only to me, that kind of permanent discount is a failure as a promotion strategy. The writer is selling books, yes, but isn’t building brand loyalty to her name. It’s as if she’s selling cheap cookies that might taste like Fig Newtons. When Fig Newtons are discounted, the buyers with less money buy the Fig Newtons. When Fig Newtons aren’t discounted, the buyers with less money buy the cheap version of the Fig Newton.

Other writers might see those continual sales as a success. Other writers might be willing to take the risk that only one-third or one-tenth of their initial buyers will return to buy more books from that writer.

Be honest with yourself when you analyze the success or failure of your promotion. You might not get the result you wanted. You might get a better result, one you hadn’t thought of.

Or you might be successful in the sales you received, but failed at what you really wanted which was, say,  brand loyalty.

Only you can determine if those results are worthwhile to you. But look at all of the numbers and measures you can, and do so over time.

If you do a price promotion, and the sales figures don’t increase when the price raises to its original point, then was the promotion a failure?

It depends on when you measured the promotion, and what your goals were.

Since my goals are always long-term, I look at it this way. If the lower-price promotion did not increase the baseline of my sales on similar titles, then I would consider that promotion to be a failure.

But in the short-term, some writers would believe the promotion to be a success.

Most indie writers panic when the sales numbers go back down, and feel that they need to constantly discount to goose sales which is, in my opinion, another mistake. Because you must…

4. Determine If the Campaign Is Worth Repeating

In my opinion, a campaign is only worth repeating if it brings long-term success, not short-term success. At some point, you won’t have the time or money to goose sales. Or, as so many writers discovered when the whole idea of “free” books imploded, what worked once doesn’t work any longer.

Don’t just repeat what other writers have done successfully either. What works for them might not work for you. Be willing to try various things. Be willing to fail at various things.

But remember this: when you determine what’s worth repeating, realize you shouldn’t repeat it for every title. All of the tools in your marketing toolbox should be used sparingly.

Remember too, that a lot of data is a good thing. Today, WMG Publishing is discounting Thunder Mountain, one of Dean Wesley Smith’s books, to measure how well eBookSoda is doing on its promotions. WMG did an early promotion with eBookSoda back when it was brand new, because we knew how well such a promotion had worked with other advertising sites. The promotion was successful enough (for a small company) to warrant a new test, which WMG did not too long ago. Now, WMG is testing a third to see if eBookSoda remains on our go-to advertising list. Thunder Mountain is the beginning of a series of mixed genre romances (time travel and western and romance and science fiction) that Dean is writing right now, so it’s a good book to use as a long-term test.

I’m doing something similar with my novels, but because of serendipity. I was asked to be part of three book bundles this year, and fortunately all three are in different genres. I tried a standalone for one bundle (and it wasn’t that successful). I did the Fey in last month’s bundle, and I’ll have the first book in a Kristine Grayson series in an upcoming romance bundle.

I will use the same test on that as I outline above for the fantasy bundle.

My attitude goes like this: I’m always looking to increase discoverability over time, so if something works in the short term, it better have more than a one-shot effect. Unless that one-shot is exactly what you’re going for.

The Fey promotion in March is currently a one-off that came from the opportunity Kevin presented, rather than any real planned promotion of the Fey. It’s not worth my time or my effort to do a big promotion on the Fey right now, since the new book is on the distant horizon.

However, WMG Publishing and I have just started a major promotion of the Smokey Dalton book series that I’m writing under the name Kris Nelscott.

The goal in the beginning of this promotion, which started as the Storybundle ended, is to inform readers that this series exists. Established readers need to know that a new book is out, and new readers need to know the series is easy to get into.

Smokey Dalton series adFor that reason, WMG and I decided to do a traditional promotion of the new book Street Justice. I finished writing it in spring of 2013, and the book was ready to go (with edits and proofs and a lovely cover) by August. Still, WMG did the ARCs and contacted reviewers, making sure the book went into the traditional system with the idea of letting the series’ supporters—mystery bookstores and librarians—know that the new book exists.

Early numbers show that libraries are ordering this book more than they’ve ordered any other WMG title. Booksellers are picking up the book as well. Reviews have shown up in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, among other places, and they’re getting exactly the attention we want. The books are being ordered.

Just last week, WMG mailed a series of press releases to African-American news outlets, reviewers, and bloggers, letting them know the series exists. St. Martins Press never notified this community that I was writing a series with an African-American detective. Time will tell if this promotion works, but it’s only one prong in a year-long campaign.

Upcoming are promotions on A Dangerous Road, the first book in the series, as well as some book festival promotions, and more media work starting in August.

Already, the sales of the series are better than they were last year at this time. And by next year, they should be higher. When the next book comes out (in 2015, I hope, depending on my writing schedule), then there will be a halo effect from all of this promotion.

It’s a studied campaign—a slow, old-fashioned one, with a focus on booksellers, librarians, and brand-new readers. The new readers are my favorite part of the promotion, because in the past, no one tried to grow the series.

This kind of campaign is hard to measure. It’s tough to see a crossover between something that’s purely informational and immediate sales.

For example, St. Martins advertised one of my Kris Nelscott books in The New Yorker. I saw no increase in sales that week through Amazon which was, by the time the ad hit, one of the few places the book was still available. That book did not sell more copies than any other Kris Nelscott book.

What did happen was that I heard from readers who couldn’t buy the book.

Was I hearing from them because they saw the New Yorker ad? Or would they have looked for the book anyway?

The key thing about informational ads and things done to tell readers something exists is repetition.

The more someone sees the name of a product (be it a book or a new brand of cookies) in the general course of a month, the more likely that someone is to pick up the item when they see it. Not purchase the item. Just pick it up and look at it.

Studies show that once an item is in a customer’s hand, the customer is much more likely to purchase that item. So half the battle is won.

But it’s hard to measure.

And what is information advertising? Straight ads, signs, the book itself on shelves, blog discussions, reviews, newsletters, Facebook posts, and on and on and on.

If you the writer post constantly about the things you’ve just published, people leave. But if people stumble upon mentions elsewhere—a magazine, a blog, an ad—they’ll pay attention.

So straight records are important and so is one other thing…

5. Make Notes About What You Learned—Good and Bad

You need to keep track of what you’ve learned and what you assume from what you learned. What worked in 2011 in ebook publishing promotion isn’t working in 2014, mostly because everyone has jumped on the same bandwagon and the promotions aren’t new and exciting any more.

We don’t know what the hot new promotion will be in 2014, but we do know this: that promotion probably won’t work as well in 2017.

Keep track of what works for you, what didn’t work for you, how much money you spent, if you recouped that money, how much you might have earned, how much time it cost you to earn that and—because you’re a writer (and probably the sole employee of your business)—how many books/short stories you lost because you didn’t have the time to finish them while doing your promotion.

All of that goes into your records.

Be willing to try something that failed in the past, because…what worked in 2011 doesn’t work now, so conversely what works now might be what failed in 2011.

For example, WMG has just moved some of its promotional dollars away from the established reader-focused magazines to established book dealer venues. WMG has learned that the book dealer venues have had a direct financial impact on the books advertised there.

However, WMG wasn’t in the position to advertise in those venues until 2013. The rules to get into those venues are pretty strict, and many small publishers never meet those rules. WMG, which didn’t meet the rules three years ago, does now. So, the money shifts from one venue to another.

I’m sure the company will go through other changes in the year.

I know that my promotional opinions are constantly evolving. But I pay attention to what’s going on in the culture—not just for books, but for other entertainment products as well. I learn as much (or more) from the music and television industries as I do from what’s going on inside book publishing.

The key to success in promotion is pretty simple.

Figure out if you want to do a campaign, what you want from that campaign, and then measure the results as they come in. Then assess, assess, assess.

Best case: the campaign achieved its goal and grew your business over time.

Next best: the campaign achieved its goal

Shrug: the campaign did nothing at all (that you could tell)

Bad: the campaign cost time and money and did nothing at all

Worst case: the campaign cost time, money, and alienated the very people you were trying to attract. (Whenever you think that’s not possible, go on Twitter and watch some poor writer tweet every hour about his 99 cent book.)

When you’re ready to promote that tenth novel of yours, go back through this series, and see if anything jumps out at you. Plan what you’re going to do. And then be honest about your results.

Good luck. Have fun.

And, most importantly, keep writing.

Two blog posts in one week! I’m not going to do that very often (she types, tiredly). But it is the anniversary week, and I did want to wrap up this series.

As is always the case, donations slow down in the last part of any series. So please, if you learned something in these past 22 posts, leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

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“The Business Rusch: How To Measure Success” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch




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