If You Love It, Review It

No doubt about it, we live in a review-driven world nowadays. Any small business owner will tell you how crucial reviews are. Once upon a time, they used to be about the testimonials you got customers to write for you. These were then displayed on your walls (pre-internet, kids!) or in your annual report.

Now? Who buys anything before reading the reviews first? From TripAdvisor to Yelp, Amazon to eBay, reviews help customers decide what they will spend their precious pennies on.

Recently, I wrote a piece we hope to include in a new Comely Bank Publishing (CBP) book. As there might be a spare page or two, CBP’s founder Gordon Lawrie and I thought, “waste not, want not. Let’s use the space to beg for reviews”. Here’s the piece…

Did you like this book? Why not review it?

Reviews are important for books, especially books published by small, independent publishers such as Comely Bank Publishing. Why? They help our books get found.

How do you choose a book to read? You might choose it because it’s prominently displayed, you’ve seen an advertisement for it, you know the author’s work or you’ve read a good review.

Small, independent publishers do not have the same market for budgeting as traditional publishing houses do. We can’t afford posters in railway stations or pages in magazines and we don’t get access to the same number of book stores.

However, sites such as Amazon, Kobo and GoodReads can level the playing field for independently-published novels. Book reviews act as “word of mouth” for shoppers online. They provide social proof that something is good – well, at least if your reviews are positive!

The more reviews a book has, the further up the rankings it moves. A book with a lot of reviews will come up quickly if a reader types in ‘Scottish novels’ or whatever genre to the search engine.

You don’t need to write a long or detailed review – just a couple of sentences will do.

Thank you!

 

How Much Money Can You Expect To Make On A Book?

 

Power of Words

When you stumble clumsily into the world of writing, you soon realise that out there are a lot of people who want to help you. Thank you one and all…

That said, I am guilty 90% of the time of a great deal of naivety. “Ooh yes,” thinks I to myself, “writing’s the career for me. I’ll write a book and we’ll see how that goes.” Common sense reasserts itself on many occasions – ‘better have a plan B Ms B, don’t unsubscribe to those email job alerts just yet and remember just how many people attempt to write a book every year…’

100 hundred million? More? 200 million Americans?

Just to clear up some areas of naivety, I’d like to borrow some wise words of wisdom about the costs of publishing. I’m borrowing them from the excellent resources section of Comely Bank Publishing and its founder/owner Gordon Lawrie: just how much money can you expect to make on a book? (Or rather, just how much money can you expect to lose.)

The Finances of Books

Many authors don’t realise that it’s extremely hard to make a profit from “conventional” books, especially in the modern economic climate. Until around 1996, books in the UK – nowhere else, though – were protected by the Net Book Agreement, stipulating that books had to be sold at their cover price and not discounted.

This protected many small book shops, but it also made it possible to make large profits on best-selling titles and use the proceeds to cross-subsidise newcomers. The Net Book Agreement collapsed in the mid 1990s, under pressure from supermarkets and Waterstones.

So, good for picking up three for two bargains and £3 books with your groceries, but what did it mean for publishers and writers?

Take a 350-page fiction paperback novel, for instance, which is priced at £7.99 (rounded up to £8 for ease)…

Large chains such as Waterstones insist on buying only through one of the big wholesalers/distributors (Gardners). Every book on their shelves has to go to Eastbourne first, then to Waterstones hub and then to the individual stores. Gardners ask for a 60% cut of the book’s total costs, 40% goes to the shop and they keep the other 20% which pays for their costs of storing, distributing and profit. The remaining 40% goes to the publisher, which in the case of an £8 book is £3.20.

The £3.20 pays for:

The cost of printing, which can be anything from £6 per copy for a small print run, to 20-50p for a mass market paperback. The publisher has to guess how many books they are going to sell.

Storing the books. If you want them looked after properly (and who wouldn’t?), then storage costs are not cheap. A local example in Scotland is Booksource in Cambuslang, which stores books for £49 per month, plus 16% per copy of the cover price.

Getting books to their destination. Hold a book in your hand – is it really light and slim? No? Unsurprisingly, if Gardners will take them, doing it in bulk is good, but more often than not they’ll only order books one at a time. The current postage by Royal Mail is £2.60.

Publicity. People don’t buy books that they haven’t heard of, so that means advertising, leaflets etc or sending authors to do events all over the country.

The costs of giving books away. As many as half of your first print run might go for free – review copies, complementary copies and proof copies to check for errors.

The publishing company and their staff.

Oops, we’ve missed out the author’s cut… Ah, no we haven’t. Honestly, for a first book you will be very, very lucky indeed to get £500 in advance. And advances are just that – you are entitled to a percentage of each sale, but if the book doesn’t sell enough copies then you do have to return the advance. (Although in practice that doesn’t happen often as it is easier for the publisher just to cut its losses and run miles from your book flop.) And of course, as the author has been obliged to go through an agent in the first place, his/her gross earnings have to go there too.

So the likelihood of making money as an author who writes one or two books? Slim indeed. The real money is made on the extras – the film and TV rights, toys of your book’s characters, perhaps additional work as a journalist/reviewer, or making author appearances for fees and selling signed copies.

Ian Rankin, Edinburgh’s second best-selling author (after JK Rowling) famously sold about 250 copies of his first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, and not many of the next one either. It was only once he’d written a few more that his popularity took off and people wanted to read the earlier books.

This means that commercial publishers need to be very, very convinced of a book’s selling potential. They want to be able to sell 30,000 copies at least. If the book gets poor reviews, they might pull it and decide not to sell (this happens far more often than people think). In such a situation, the author is allowed to keep the advance, but the book is gone for ever because the publisher has the rights.

Can you imagine how awful that situation must feel?

Even if they decide not to withdraw it, the publisher can opt not to spend money on promoting/advertising the book – which amounts to the same thing.

This is why anyone in the business will tell you that there are three stages to any book:

1. Writing the book

2. Getting it published

3. Getting the book properly promoted.

Take a guess what the hardest bit is? Yup, number three. No matter how good you think your book is (and your lovely family and friends are sure to back you up with this), there are millions and millions of other good books out there too. Your book doesn’t just need to be good – and you could argue that there are plenty of turkeys out there which have still managed amazing sales – it needs to persuade plenty of people to buy it.

Are you filled with despair? Do remember that modern technology has opened up new routes. The first is ebooks, which generates good profits if you get lucky. 50 Shades of Grey is one of the better-known versions, but Amanda Hocking was a multi-millionaire at the age of 22 publishing her horror books as ebooks only. And you shouldn’t sneer at self-publishing, which isn’t the same as vanity publishing – you are in control. You pay for the costs*, admittedly, but you keep all the profits.

The whole publishing business changes almost weekly. It’s 2014, but who knows what publishing will look like in 2018? Close your mind to nothing at all.

It is very unlikely that the first thing you write will make you a fortune. Making a living from writing requires hard work, a willingness to keep going back to try again after repeated rejections but if you are good enough, you try hard enough and you are lucky enough. Your time will come.
©Gordon Lawrie.

*Comely Bank Publishing helps people minimise the costs of doing this, but the work has to be up to its standards.

The original article was first published on Comely Bank Publishing. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

How to Self-Publish…

If it looks like a book...

If it looks like a book…

OK, OK – this one is a bit of a misnomer in a blatant attempt to try and get more search engine hits. I am, in reality, a brazen, attention-seeking hussy who will stop at nothing in my quest to make the world sit up and notice.

(I should have called this post how to self-publicise, rather than publish really.)

Anyway, I am jolly excited today because publication of my own book is indeed imminent. It would be foolish to name a date, but the moment of holding a hard copy of Katie and the Deelans in my hands creeps ever closer. Excitement reigns in the highheelsandpinkglitter household.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

There’s a saying about press & PR (it being dead an’ all) that companies or brands are no longer content trying to get published, they are publishers in themselves and the same can apply to writers. Why bother with the faff that is agent-hunting [cue: different submission versions required for each, plus the wait for replies, plus the generic rejection emails] when you can cut to the chase AND not have to hand over a fair whack of your sales?

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Really, the title of this post is – why self-publish? There’s an excellent guide here as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Naturally, as it suits my purposes (and my efforts with traditional publishing have so far yielded a big fat zilch) I’ve chosen to focus on the drawbacks of traditional publishing (and thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for this info):

Traditional Publishing Drawbacks

It’s slow: It takes somewhere between 9-18 months for a book to be released once it is submitted to a publisher, an infinity in the digital world.

It’s unfair: Publishers take the lion’s share of royalties, usually 85-92%. That means most authors earn about a buck per book, or less. Publishers hog roughly 70% of electronic royalties, for a product that has almost no production or distribution costs.

It’s outdated: They are not social-media savvy; they may have powerful inroads to traditional media, like TV and print magazines, but those things are increasingly irrelevant to book sales.

It’s ineffective: They do not give most authors a very big marketing push, or sometimes any marketing push at all.

It’s short-lived: Most authors’ books will be in bookstores for a few weeks and then get pulled from the shelves when they don’t sell very well, leaving it entirely up to Amazon sales. This begs the question: why not just use Amazon?

It’s not cost-effective: The vast majority of authors don’t make any real bankable money on their books.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for the above info.

My own route to self-publishing goes like this… Write a book. Phew – that’s the difficult bit over and done with, hmm? Ah no. Re-write book once. Re-write book twice (this time stripping out a lot of excess stuff, even though it made me want to cry).

Use social media. I found a publisher through LinkedIn, specifically the small and perfectly formed Comely Bank Publishing, a publishing firm aimed at creating opportunities for Scottish-based authors.

CBP’s modus operandi is:

Comely Bank Publishing aims to create opportunities for local Edinburgh-area authors to publish works of interest using twenty-first century publishing options, including ebooks and print on demand.

We genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published because publishers and publishing agents have become too cautious, grasping at poorer-quality work simply because it carries the name of an established author or a bankable name such as a sports star, and that the future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

[There are specific resources on this site designed to help new authors think about some of the issues surrounding publishing.]

Thirdly, find a professional proof-reader. I looked through elance. I work on elance so seeing it from the other side was interesting and enlightening (and I also picked up some tips for how to structure my proposals from now on).

And next? Well, next is apply the changes from the proof-reader, make a cover design decision and then… PUBLISH. And flippin’ self-promote like mad.

 

Additional image thanks to wikipedia. Mywritingblog.com available here.