Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Much I Know

Okay, so I did a sharp left turn away from talking about the writing biz with that last post. Still I couldn't help but feel that my thoughts about The Help was related. Sort of. The discussions about the book and movie made me think about why I became a writer in the first place, which had a lot to do with my family. Little did I know that that one simple wish at age eleven would one day lead me down the rabbit hole called "The World of Being A Published Author."
At first I was going to describe a few of my adventures and misadventures after I sold my first book. As entertaining as I've been told those stories are, let's get to what I've learned. So this much I now know:

Writers should relentlessly network with other professional authors. That's the best advice I can give. Don't confine yourself to local group only, or even just one group. There is a reason self-help groups are so popular in every area of life. There simply is no substitute for talking to people who are going where you want to go, or have been there and come back with war stories.

I tell this to aspiring writers all the time, and mostly their eyes glaze over or they look disappointed. I tell this to a couple of my seasoned published authors pals who tend to be loners. Self-published, indie published, traditionally published, and any combination of all three, should network. Be selective though. Start with the major professional organizations. Why? They go after information from knowledgeable sources. Then plug in to author groups that grow out of relationships that started in RWA, MWA, Novelists, Inc, etc. These authors know their stuff. Seriously. There is way too much to learn for you to rely on a few people. Cast your net wide.

Everything I learned about indie publishing, including resources that saved me money, came from networking with other authors. More $$$ in my pocket.

So let's talk about money and indie writing. I know there is debate about authors pricing their indie eBook titles too low. Some contend that books should never be priced below $3.99. That does make sense. Authors make 70% of each sale at $2.99 and above. So why did I price A Darker Shade of Midnight at .99? Well, I wanted to give readers an incentive to try out a Lynn Emery novel. It's not, as some suggest, because I don't value my writing or lack confidence in my storytelling. Sales through retail sites give me 35%, and sales from my website give me 100%. All the money comes to me. Traditional publishing gave me 8-10% of each sale (depending on which contract I'm talking about).  Add in the 15% cut to the agent, and 35% looks good to me. (Aside: God looked out for me - I made tidy $$$ on two books that were un-agented purely by chance. This planted the seed of not wanting an agent). If I wasn't selling anything I'd get 0%.

Not all of my books are .99. I have a plan. No, you can't know my plan until it's launched.

Covers. As a new author I learned the conventional wisdom, via local and national RWA (Romance Writers of America) meetings. Authors know nothing about cover design. Nothing. Sure, we know elements we'd like to see on our covers. Yet basically the advice was publishers know best. Authors simply waited, sometimes with dread based on past covers, to see what their new covers would look like. Then on author loops writers would announce the results: the thrill of victory- "They listened to me!", or the agony of defeat "Oh dear God, no-ooo!"

With my indie covers I chose the art and described how I wanted the elements arranged, then hired someone with skills to design them. I'm still no good with Photoshop, and what is exactly is a vector? You get the picture. Since writing is my top priority for now I'm keeping to that approach. But together Pati Nagle and I made a great team coming up with the covers for A Darker Shade of Midnight (the hint of blood on the letters was my idea) and Best Enemies (the gun behind the title? Yep, my idea).

Back to money. Recently on another blog this new author talked about spending $5000 or more publishing an indie eBook. There is so much you can learn from proven authors in the groups I mentioned before. There is absolutely no reason to spend that kind of money. $5000. Please.

Book Trailers - my experience is this: I had fun coming up with the ideas (colors, photos, etc.). A guy I dated even let me use his original music. We're still friends, so I might ask to use his excellent music again. A solid reason to have good break-ups if you can, but I digress. Book trailers didn't result in book sales. I'd say don't even waste  the time to do one yourself, much less major $$$ paying for one.

Promotion in General - Nothing is certain. Do what makes sense, and what you enjoy. Since no one can say, "This is definitely going to sell books!", doing what you enjoy is my best advice of the two. Be willing to try ads, interviews, guest blog posts, etc. But don't spend big $$$, or eat too much into time you should be writing. Repeat - no one knows which of the various promotional/marketing efforts work best. None are sure fire for every writer anyway. What worked like magic for one author may do nothing for you.

If you have a traditional book deal:
  • Once again you need to network with other authors, including those that write for the same publishing house as you.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for stuff - like if your publisher is willing to split the cost of a promotional effort. You might be surprised. If they say "No" you haven't lost anything.
  • Know what every clause of your contract means, including the long-term implications. Get help from a good literary attorney if necessary. See a list provided by author Laura Resnick (scroll down).
  • Agents are not attorneys! Believe it or not, they don't always know the implications of every contract clause.
  • Agents are not always looking out for you. They are looking out for themselves. If your book deal will mess up another deal worth more, they'll choose to drop kick you. They also won't risk their relationships with editors because of something you want in a contract.
  • Negotiate. You probably won't get what you want each time, but go after it anyway.
  • Kenny Rogers was right- know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Don't bluff unless you're willing to walk away from a deal. Decide what you can live with, but do it based on as much knowledge as possible about the contract clause in question.
Any questions? Feel free to drop me a line at

Visit to learn more about my books and other interests like forensics, voodoo and other stuff.


Charles Gramlich said...

I know the networking is very important but it's so against my nature unfortunately.

Liane Spicer said...

Good info, Lynn. I'm always amazed by the generosity of the authors I've met over the last four years in sharing what they've learned along the way.

Lynn Emery said...

Hi Charles, and I understand. I'm no social butterfly either. I've learned to find writers I can relate to, and expand from there. The great thing about online networks is, unlike face2face, you can be quiet and learn or chatty. Most author groups don't mind the "lurkers".

Hi Liane, thanks! That's willingness to share is one great thing about the author community. I've learned so much from others, so I want to pass it on.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Oh Lynn, this post is so informative and so timely. Wish I'd gotten that advice two years ago.

Marissa Monteilh said...

It takes a village, reaching out to veterans and helping the new authors, paying it forward. I find that fellow authors "get it" and really help to keep me balanced. Talking shop w/an author is like food to my soul. Connecting is important. Great post!

Lynn Emery said...

Hi Jewel! Glad you found my nuggets useful. Wish I'd read DW Smith's posts on the biz 10 years ago. But it's never too late to learn.

You're so right, Marissa. I love talking to people who understand what being published really means, and the way the book biz works.

KeVin K. said...

Lot of timely and important information here, Lynn. The second time in as many months that your post has dovetailed with mine -- I'm a few turns behind you on the independent publishing path. (I'll probably be wanting to pick your brains on a few things over the next few months.)

In writing about the 1-million ebooks he sold through Kindle, John Locke named the book packager he turned his word doc over to, leaving them to handle editing, formatting, etc. I checked their website and there services start at $3000 for basic editing -- no idea what he pays for a complete package, but wouldn't be surprised if it's twice that. If we go with the $5000 figure you mentioned and figure 35-cents a sale, he'd have to sell over 14,000 copies just to pay the packager. (Locke made tens of millions in marketing before becoming a writer; $5k may not seem like much to him.)

My problems with social networking have nothing to do with willingness and interest in meeting/talking to new people. They're my dearth of eptness in managing the media and lack of time.

Lynn Emery said...

Hi KeVin! I'm psychic, remember I'm from south Louisiana: the bayou state full of mystery and magic! :o)

Seriously, authors can choose to have the formatting done for them. But even the tech challenged are creating their own epub and mobi files using Calibre, and there are other free or low cost programs. Many of us are saving money with a turnkey approach. This is where I saved money, getting the names of affordable copyeditors/proofreaders, cover designers, and folks who convert to eBook formmats.

Lack of time for social media - I'm rarely on Facebook, and if there I'm browsing for 30 minutes tops. I've never warmed up to FB for some reason. I love to tweet, but don't do it all day. No time.
I with you on that one!