Business Musings: Because…September
I knew, after I finished (finished!) the long series on contracts and dealbreakers that I would need to write some upbeat posts, just for me. Believe me, those contracts are a true and utter nightmare, compounded by the writers who say (in public and in private emails) that they know agents will screw them and traditional publishers will destroy their careers but the writers want that anyway.
I’ve learned, through long hard lessons, to let those writers go. (Frankly, in real life, you have to let people like that go as well.) That’s why Dean and I have a sign on the wall of the workshop space at WMG Publishing which says You are Responsible For Your Career. The writers see it, and maybe understand its truth. Because if we try to rescue every writer we see walking down a wrong path, we would never get anything else done.
Still, it’s hard to watch them walk the path, climbing over the barbed wire fences, ignoring the gigantic warnings and the KEEP OUT signs along the way.
I missed my normal time to write the blog post because…September. You’ll understand in a minute. And I’m writing this at the last possible minute, while I’m exhausted and have fried-cheese brain, because…September.
Believe it or not. Because…September…is actually a positive thing. It turns out that this month may be the busiest month of my working life.
I didn’t plan it. Had I planned it, things wouldn’t have collided.
I’m great with schedules. I have a dozen calendars, all with great purpose. I have a computer calendar that notifies me of deadlines and future projects.
It all works—when I have writing deadlines. I set it up for traditional publishing writing deadlines.
I jettisoned writing deadlines nearly two years ago. I still have a few, but they’re all for short stories. All three of them. The writing I’m getting done is deadline-free. I don’t even put it on a publishing schedule with anyone until the book is done.
I have editing deadlines, and they’re on the calendar, but they’re nothing compared to the days when I edited a monthly magazine. So the calendar still looks bare.
What happened in September? Well, as a traditionally trained writer, a confluence of things that I never used to put on a calendar—unless it required going out of town.
I have never put promotion on my calendar. Ever. Because I do the minimal amount. It’s easier when I have so many projects to let the fans of the projects know four things:
- that I’m working on the project;
- that the project is finished (and available for preorder, if it is);
- the project is in print and available; and…
- the project is in some kind of special discounted something or other that the readers might want to know about.
When the bulk of what I published went through traditional publishers, I didn’t do #1 (much) because [ahem] the internet wasn’t as big a deal back then and newsletters were hard (uphill. Snow. Both ways). I didn’t do #4 because I never knew when something was being discounted. There weren’t a lot of opportunities on that front.
So, I promoted a book once it was available to order, only often the promotion was publisher-arranged, and it had to do with bookstores. I was an early adapter of websites. This website has existed in one form or another since 1997. I would post on it, and I had an Amazon bookstore, back when Amazon was the only game in town. (That’s why my Amazon bookstore still looks like an ancient Amazon bookstore. I haven’t had time to update it.)
I would also promote once the book was published. Most of that promotion happened when the publisher said “Stand here.” or “Sign there.” Personal appearances made it onto the calendar. So did conventions. I tried to go at least one near a book’s release. I would make sure that my fans knew about the new book, as best I could, and then I would go back to doing what I did best. I’d write the next book.
Quietly, and with a lot of focus.
I had noticed that my promotional efforts have crept up in the last few years, because there are so many more opportunities, but I don’t overdo, partly because I’d rather write. I know there are effective things I could do, and things I’d like to get to, but I haven’t reached that point yet, and I’m not sure I ever will.
And because I’m an early adapter, many of my systems (like my Facebook account) are set up wrong, and I have no time to correct them.
Fast-forward to February of 2015. I talked to Toni Weisskopf of Baen about the women in science fiction book. She bought it in March of 2015, and I got underway, editing what would become Women of Futures Past. Toni wanted time to promote the book properly, so we decided on a September 2016 publication date.
I said I would promote heavily. Some of that promotion has gone by the wayside due to my health, but I still can do radio, podcasts, blogs, and a bunch of other things. Baen has done a lot of promotion, getting the book out to traditional review venues and some not-so-traditional venues. I’m gearing up for some podcasts and radio interviews, plus I have some things for the Women in SF site that will start hitting next week.
I wrote an essay that I published concurrently with the book’s publication on September 6. I did two newsletters, one for the women in sf group, and one for my regular newsletter. I have blog posts from some of the women in the volume, and those will go up on the site, starting next week, with more cool things to follow.
I even hired someone to help me clean up the website, but she hasn’t started yet, because I haven’t gotten her the right materials. Why? Because…September.
September 2016 looks very far away when you’re standing in Spring of 2015.
I didn’t put the promotion on my calendar because I wasn’t traveling anywhere, and because I didn’t have any interviews lined up that would take actual meeting time.
I just figured promotion would be part of the daily routine.
And it would have been if not for the fact that I finished the first Diving novel in three years (and the second Diving novel, and started the third). That first new Diving novel is a backstory novel, so WMG decided not to go the usual promotion route. They decided to publish the book ASAP, which meant that as soon as we had a cover, I started in on the promotion, letting the Diving newsletter folks know the book was coming, and updating that website.
Then, at the beginning of September, the new Diving book, The Falls, became available for preorder. A new round of newsletters, blogging, and minor promotion started.
Not a big deal. If it weren’t for…
My own bone-headedness.
Back in the spring, Kevin J. Anderson asked me to contribute something to an Epic Fantasy Storybundle. When Kev curates a Storybundle, lots of people who don’t normally find my work find it. I said yes.
I asked the date, and he said, “Fall sometime.”
Turned out “Fall sometime” was…you guessed it…September.
Now, here’s the thing about short-term discount offers like Storyundle. They’re a great chance to get your work in front of thousands of people who don’t normally see it. But Storybundles and Humblebundles and Amazon bundles and BundleRabbit and all of those things only work if everyone lets their own fans know that the bundle exists.
And, when you’re in a bundle like that, you have to let readers know in a variety of ways. Once is not enough, because people won’t see it otherwise.
So, with this Epic Fantasy Bundle with my novel Heart Readers in it, I had to send a newsletter and blog and tweet, and share, and do my part. Now, I was able to combine the promotion for the fantasy bundle with the Diving promotion (in one thing) and with the Kickstarter promotion, but I can’t always do that.
For example, in January or February, a former student of mine, Nic Tatano, asked me if I had a book for a political thriller bundle that would run during the election. I sent him the award-winning The Enemy Within, which he hadn’t seen, and a few weeks later, he said he thought the book perfect. So, it was in.
And I forgot about it until it came time to assemble the bundle. Turned out that the Political Thriller bundle started one week after the Epic Fantasy Bundle.
Whole different crowd, whole different set of writers. Fortunately, the Political Thriller bundle ends the day after the election. (The Epic Fantasy Bundle ends in September.) I can promote the thriller bundle after September, all the way into November. Yay!
But wait, there’s more! You see, J. Daniel Sawyer, a writer who lives just down the street from me (closer to the ocean, dang him) asked me if I had a science fiction novel that revolves around extreme sports. Sure enough, I do, and it was conveniently called Extremes. I have no idea when Dan asked me that, but I know it might have been as long as a year ago. I agreed to be in a bundle with that book too, if Dan got the bundle into Storybundle, and he did, and the Extreme Science Fiction bundle starts…this week.
That bundle ends the first week of October, so I have to do some September promotion, but I can wait at least until next week. Except next week, I’m teaching…
That doesn’t count the BundleRabbit promotions I’m in, some of which linger on in bundles on Amazon. Most of those end up as collections of short stories, so they take less promotion, but still, they need just a bit of time and attention too.
And then—and then—
We’ve been talking about doing a Kickstarter subscription drive for Fiction River for the past six months or so. Dean would say that we’re going to do it at the same time of year as the previous subscription drive, which I remembered as August, but which was mostly—you guessed it—September.
Kickstarters take some additional promotion, which I usually don’t mind. It’s like bundle promotion. You just have to let people know the Kickstarter exists.
Except…I wanted to experiment. I wanted to see if we could communicate the contents of Fiction River through a series of video trailers, like the film industry does when it tries to communicate the contents of its movies.
I had a vision for the trailers and rather than hire someone else to do it, like I did with our last subscription drive, I decided to do them. I was deeply dissatisfied with what we had done before, and I felt we could do better.
I did a series of trailers, all focusing either on a different genre or a different mood or, in one case, on the writers and anthology series itself. You can see most of the trailers on the Kickstarter page at the bottom, but I’m going to share one of the videos here.
This is my favorite (today, anyway). All of the trailers tell some kind of story or set some kind of mood, but this little 45 second piece does both. And it’s no surprise that this trailer was the last one I did.
Frankly, I just thought of these as the kind of advertising you see all over the place—informational advertising. Not impressions advertising, where you’re trying to get a click-through, but just an ad campaign that raises awareness about the product itself.
These videos have worked far better than I expected. They allowed us to show the possible subscribers and supporters that Fiction River is eclectic. The videos had an interesting side benefit: we started selling individual copies of the anthology series on other platforms, like Amazon, when a particular video hit. So, for example, if this Thriller trailer catches people’s attention, we’ll see a spike in the sales of Pulse Pounders as well as a few people heading over to the Kickstarter.
We’ll be using the videos in other promotions all year. I might have to tweak the videos, but that’s not a big deal. I also used the videos to learn video programs, and to practice some techniques. It was a win-win-win. And it only took a week’s worth of my time.
Only I didn’t take the week all at once. I took it on Sundays and Wednesdays. Wednesday is usually my day off, and I take part of Sunday too. So rather than cut into my writing time, I used those days to “take a class” if you will and practice something new.
I was excited about that. It worked well.
And then the Kickstarter began at the end of August—and suddenly, it was September, and I had to promote the Kickstarter too.
Anyway, if I had paid attention and used my calendar like I used to for deadlines, I would have seen this piling up. But I didn’t. Because looking at promotion like a big important task is just not in my wheelhouse. I generally don’t believe in it.
As I said above, I usually only do the minimum, except when I’m experimenting (Kickstarter) or when I’m doing something unusual, like a Storybundle. And even with those things, I rarely reach the frequency of promotion that most indie writers do.
I really believe in the power of writing the next book.
But, this month, I found a hole in my thinking. You see, traditionally trained me, I think of promotion as something you do for the current or upcoming book, not for what the industry calls backlist titles. Even though I know there is no real such thing as backlist anymore. All books are new to someone.
So, I find myself in September, promoting:
And in the past, it would have ended there. But, that’s only the beginning. Because I also find myself promoting:
- An anthology series, Fiction River, that has 19 issues in print, with more to come. (First volume published in 2013 [and available in the Epic Fantasy Storybundle!]. Most recent volume published in July.)
- A novel, The Enemy Within, (Political Thriller Bundle) first published in 2014, and still in print.
- A novel, Extremes: A Retrieval Artist Novel, (Extreme SF Bundle) first published in 2003, and back in print with a new publisher.
- A novel, Heart Readers, (Epic Fantasy Storybundle) first published in 1993 (!), and back in print with a new publisher.
To say that these last four things are completely unexpected isn’t quite true. Because I did know that the promotions were coming. They just Did Not Compute as something that should go on Kris’s to-do list.
I have realized that I must change the way I budget my promotion time, and the way I use my calendars. I now must track the upcoming promotions, so that they don’t overlap. Or if they do, I have a game plan going in.
Because I didn’t have one as of September 1. I was buffeted by the promotional winds, as it were, and I lost some writing time because of it. Which is completely unacceptable.
It’s odd to think that I must completely revamp the way that I look at the way I use time in my writing career. I’ve done it the same way for so many years that revising it is like learning how to breathe all over again.
But, honestly, I wouldn’t change this for the world. I’m proud of the novels. I know some writers renounce their older work. I just look at it as a product of my younger self, who had different interests than I do now. I may know more about technique, but I wouldn’t tell the story in the same way with the same urgency that my younger self had. I think that’s all valuable.
I love that the books are not only back in print, they’re reaching a new audience each and every day. I love the fact that they’re reaching a worldwide audience, and that I control the promotions. I can decide if I want to bundle the books or if I want to lower the price or raise the price or partner with someone else to promote it all.
I love that aspect of this new world.
I also would much rather be too busy with work that actually finds readers rather than work that doesn’t. I’ve gone on book tours. The publishers spent tens of thousands of dollars and often got no real return at all on their investment.
I can partner with other writers and Storybundle, and spend a bit of time (and no money) and attract thousands of new readers.
Hmmm. Which is a better use of my time?
Usually, doing a Storybundle or a Kickstarter or even a podcast interview does not interfere with my writing time. It did this month because, in part, I planned badly. Had I planned better, I wouldn’t have lost any time at all.
I’m on the proper planning schedule now. I spent an entire afternoon organizing my life to reflect the new reality and not the old one. I feel better now.
Less stressed, and quite lucky.
Now, if I can only find the time to assemble the contracts/dealbreakers book… 🙂
I almost punted on this blog this week because…September. And then I realized I didn’t want to give up the blog just because I overscheduled myself. I didn’t have time for the usual research, so I wrote this post. The next post will probably be research light as well because I’m prepping for next week’s class.
Then we’ll return to our regularly scheduled blog posts.
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“Business Musings: Because…September,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/Krisdog.