The Business Rusch: Samples (Discoverability Part 12)
Every now and then, indie writers erupt into discussions of price. Writers remain convinced—no matter how much logic you show them—that readers won’t buy a book written by a new writer unless that book is cheap.
If that statement were true, then traditional publishing would not exist. Traditional publishing—as long as it has been around—has sold books by new writers at the same price as books by established writers. There is no tiered pricing for new to old.
Honestly, tiered pricing has nothing to do with the arts. Tiered pricing is day-job thinking, believing that the writer’s experience matters more than the piece of art itself.
People who work day jobs expect to start at a lower wage than people who’ve been in the job for a while.
If you think about things from a writer’s point of view, day-job thinking kinda makes sense. You’d think that established writers would get paid more than writers who are brand new.
But even in the most corporate part of publishing, traditional publishing, tiered pricing does not exist. It doesn’t even exist when it comes to advances paid by traditional publishers. If a traditional publisher believes that Brand New Writer’s Very First Novel will be a worldwide bestseller, then that traditional publisher will pay an advance to Brand New Writer in the six- or seven-figures, while Established Writer with a long track record who has just released her fiftieth novel might get an advance in the five-figures. If she’s lucky.
Both books, by the way, will have the same suggested retail price on their covers.
Publishing isn’t about the artist. It’s about the art, the product, the item.
And for readers, it’s about the story. Does the reader want that story? Does the reader like reading that genre? Does the reader think that story will entertain them?
If readers don’t buy new writers by price, how do new writers get discovered?
That’s the point of all these blogs. And honestly, the best way for a new writer to get discovered is in the company of established writers.
That’s why bundles work (see last week’s post). That’s why networked blogs and other group activities also aid discoverability.
But the best way to be discovered is to become familiar to a reader.
How can a new writer do that without lowering the price of her precious novel?
There are a variety of ways to do that. And many of them involve sampling.
Most indie writers think of sampling as that opening of the novel that e-tailers let you put up for your book. The first ten or twenty percent absolutely needs to be available to the reader, so don’t clutter up the opening of the ebook version of your novel with pull quotes or a table of contents. (In the ebook, put the table of contents in the back.) Let the opening of the book speak for itself.
But there’s a lot more to sampling than simply having the opening of your book available to the readers.
The best way to let readers sample your work is through more of the work—not free copies given away on e-bookstore sites—but as part of a larger whole.
The best way to sample? Write short stories.
I write a lot of short stories. I love them, which is one reason I write them. I also write short stories as a means to world-build my novels. I would much rather work out a story question while figuring out how part of my world works, than write some dry nonfiction piece for the book’s bible which no one else will ever see.
Even if I’m not writing science fiction or fantasy, I write stories to world-build. I use short stories as practice. Writers so rarely think they need to practice, but we all do. Sometimes I practice a historic milieu. Sometimes I practice a character. Sometimes I practice a technique.
If the short story doesn’t work, I’m out a few hours (or a week) of my time. If the novel doesn’t work, then I’m out several months.
The best thing about short stories, though, is their versatility.
Let me give you an example.
My short story, “Play like a Girl,” is free on this website until Monday. I wrote the story by invitation for an anthology of short stories based on the songs of Janis Ian. The anthology, Stars, has just been reprinted through Lucky Bat Books. It also has a brand new audio edition through Audible. WMG Publishing has just published a standalone version of the story with a great cover.
So, as of today, readers have four ways to find that short story. Readers who come to my weekly free fiction post will find “Play like a Girl” and maybe like it well enough to buy some of the other slipstream stories or women’s fiction that I write. Maybe they’ll even pick up my novel, Bleed Through, which is also marketed as women’s fiction (and which also has a new audio edition).
Readers who like women’s fiction might discover the standalone short story through a search of new women’s fiction on the e-tailing sites. Or readers might pick up the e-book because of the spectacular cover that Allyson Longueira at WMG designed.
But the best way for readers to discover me and my work through that short story is in the anthology Stars. Thirty different writers have stories in that anthology. Fans of each of those writers might pick up the anthology. Fans who like more than one of the writers definitely will pick up the anthology.
If those fans are completest readers, like I am, they’ll read the other stories in the volume. If they like “Play like a Girl,” they’ll flip to the bio I’ve put in which accompanies the story, and find my other work. Or they’ll come to this website to see what else I’m doing. Or they’ll do a search of my work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or whatever online retailer they usually use.
They might not buy a full novel. They might buy a short story. They might sample some books before trying one. They might see the storybundle on the sidebar, and order it, getting a bunch of books for less than the price of one.
They might take one of my novels out of the library.
Or they might not remember my name at all—until they encounter another of my short stories somewhere, and then remember that they had liked “Play like a Girl.”
The best part of discoverability via short stories, in my opinion, is that the work introduces the reader to other work by the author.
Plus the short story is advertising. Think about it. It costs a minimum of $600 for a half page (horizontal) to advertise one time in one of the Dell short fiction magazines. It costs $1000 for a full-page ad.
In the current issue of Analog, I have a short story that runs seven pages. To run seven pages of full-page advertising would cost me $7000. Instead, I got paid for the short story—and readers get a chance to sample my work.
That’s quite a financial swing in my favor.
And the story’s not done doing its job. After a few months go by, my contract with Analog allows me to reprint the story any way that I want to. Including in an ebook, which will allow more readers to find my work.
According to our reader survey, more than 80% purchase books by the authors they have been introduced to in our magazines. And about 33% read more than 15 science fiction novels per year!
I write science fiction, so having an sf story in Analog puts my name in front of their 27,000 readers.
When I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, we did a similar survey and got similar results. Unlike book publishers, magazines do survey their readers because a loss of circulation means that magazines can’t charge as much for advertising. So magazines need to know what their readers want and how to make sure the magazine caters to those wants.
I have no idea how many people have bought/will buy the Stars anthology. But even if it’s only 10,000 readers, those 10,000 readers might not have seen my work otherwise.
I can’t measure how many readers cross over from the short stories to the novels, mostly because I haven’t tried, but I do know that many, many fans tell me they encountered my short stories long before they bought my books.
I keep the short stories in the mail. I still submit to traditional short story markets all the time. I do so, because despite what new writers believe, writers never become “established.” There are always new readers who have never heard of you. As a writer, you will never ever be able to rest on your laurels. New readers enter the book buying pool every day—and the vast majority of those readers have not heard of you. They haven’t heard of Nora Roberts either.
It’s up to you to find ways to allow those readers to discover you.
I can see the comments now: so many of you are going to tell me that you submitted five or fifteen or 100 stories to the various magazines and got some rejections. [Shrug] I got three form rejections two weeks ago. Writers collect rejection slips.
Keep those stories in the mail. It takes an average of 6 months to get a response from the literary and small magazines. Plan to keep your stories in the mail for a few years before taking them out of the traditonal publishing markets. I’ve sold stories ten years after I’ve written them—all because I kept them in the mail.
Chalk what you’ve written up to practice, keep sending the stories to a market that might buy them, and write more short fiction. It’s certainly better than spending your hard-earned dollars on display ads that won’t work unless you do them right (and yes, we’ll discuss that stuff for the rest of this month).
What if you never sell to the major magazines? What if they don’t like your voice or your quirkiness or whatever? What if you’ve been around for a long time as a short fiction writer and never gotten traction?
Go back to last week’s blog. Put together an e-anthology of your own. Make certain that you have the rights from your fellow contributors to do so, and make sure that you have a contract and a way to do the accounting if you’re going to charge for it.
And if you don’t play nice with others, what then?
One week, or one month, or something regular, put a story free on your website only. The idea is to drive traffic to your site and build readership. The nifty thing about my Free Fiction Monday short stories is that so many readers make a point of coming to the website every Monday.
I have no idea how many of these readers buy my work. Honestly, I don’t care. What these readers do is become a resource for other readers. Almost daily, someone recommends my work on Twitter to someone else. This week, the discussion has been about female science fiction writers, and someone linked to my work. Previous weeks, the discussions have been things like paranormal romances or noir fiction.
I don’t initiate these discussions. I see them only because someone has looped me in. But often, that looping includes a link to that week’s free story.
It takes time to establish an audience for the free fiction—several months of regular posting, in fact. But that audience will become loyal.
I don’t offer fiction for free in online bookstores. Only on my website. And only for one week.
It probably would work better if I made an announcement every week to the various websites that track free fiction. But I’d rather be writing, so I don’t do all of the things that I “should” when it comes to discoverability.
Short stories aid discoverability. So, logically, it would seem that nonfiction does too.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, then articles and blogs will help.
But think about this from a reader’s point of view. Readers are very smart people. They know that fiction writers and nonfiction writers use different skills. A nonfiction writer venturing into novels? Readers are skeptical.
So if they sample and like your nonfiction, they’ll search for more of your nonfiction, not your fiction.
And readers really don’t care about writing or publishing. They have their own lives and their own careers. They’re trying to escape from those things with a few hours of adventure or romance. They don’t want to read business stuff about an industry that’s not their own.
Are there exceptions that make nonfiction writing/blogging aid the discoverability of your novels?
Very few, and they have to be creative.
If you write historical novels, then articles in various journals on the difference between the way the time period is presented in fiction versus nonfiction might help. Or an article about the cool stuff you discovered on the way to something else.
For example, a mystery writer friend of mine who is researching women in World War II for a novel sent me an e-mail with this tidbit: Bea Arthur (Maude, Golden Girls) served in the United States Marine Corps during that war. Which makes sense, honestly, but it’s also cool.
An article based on found tidbits might lead readers to a writer’s fiction. Or it might give that writer a big nonfiction readership for the tidbits.
You want readers to sample your fiction if you’re writing fiction. Remember that.
A lot of systems enable sampling. Writers really need to stop bitching about libraries and used bookstores. Think of those places as a location for readers to get free samples. (And no, I’m not going to get into how to get into libraries right now. There are ways—and we’ll deal with some of that later in the month too.)
Finally, one other great way to encourage sampling is to get your books into the book club circuit.
I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to with Bleed Through. Several book clubs have already used the title to spur discussion.
How do I plan to help with Bleed Through’s discoverability for book clubs? A book club edition. Traditional publishers do them. They have essays from the author, sample questions, and suggestions for other titles that might be useful in the book club.
I asked my sister, an avid reader and member of at least one book club, to help with resources for book clubs. She gave me a long list of the things her club uses.
I’ve decided not to share those lists. Because the websites and lists make it very clear that the websites are for readers. Writers might be invited to give an interview, but they have no place on those sites. Nor do publishers.
Most book club loops on the internet are private. Many don’t want authors there at all. The book club members want the freedom to discuss the writer’s work without fear of insulting the writer.
Do a book club edition, mark it as a book club edition, with added material, and put that in your keywords. It’ll help.
If you need assistance, then look at various book club editions. Some are marketed that way. Others have a marketing bug that’s specific to a particular company. For example, Harper Perennial uses “P.S.” with a section of the cover marked off to let readers know there are “extras.” (You can see what I mean if you look at the front and back covers of this version Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs.)
Yes, you’ll have to do another edition. Yes, you’ll have to make sure that’s got a separate title from the standard edition. Yes, it’ll take some work.
Just like writing short stories will take work.
But this is the kind of work that writers are good at. Writers write. And if that writing makes the rest of your oeuvre easier to discover, then great. Do this.
Because what we’re going to move into for next week is going to cost you time and money and lots and lots of thinking and planning.
I’ve gotten through the easy (and cheap) stuff.
Next, I’ll tell you how to play with the Big Boys.
Now you know: I’m not doing this blog to sell more fiction. I’m doing it to pay forward for all the teaching and help I received from my mentors. Plus, I’m learning a lot from you folks. It’s nice to have a discussion as the world of publishing changes underneath our feet.
But this blog does take time from all the fiction projects I’m doing, which is why this blog needs to pay for itself, and why it’s the only part of this website that has a donate button.
So, if you’ve learned something or enjoy the blog, please leave a tip on the way out.
Thanks so much for your time and your visits!
“The Business Rusch: Samples” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:
I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.
Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, which you can find here.
Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.
Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.
Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]
Those are the assumptions.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.