Today I had the privilege to learn from a New York Times bestselling author, Michael A. Stackpole. His seminar "Digital Publishing and the Independent Author" at Gen Con Indy 2012 was very well-attended. Some of the take-aways from the seminar:
- If you're trying to succeed as a writer, your guiding principle should be "Profitable is Good." Actions you take should ideally contribute to your overall profit. If you spend $7 a month to host a web site, and that web site generates $10 in sales, it's profitable.
- Just as important as generating a profit is being sensible about what you do. You shouldn't risk your retirement money or rent money, for example, to fund the printing of a book. For instance, you might use Amazon's CreateSpace program to print copies on demand, or sell it as an e-Book.
- Success in the world of digital publishing is a moving target. Techniques that work today may not work tomorrow, or in two years.
- When in doubt about what to do, generate new content. Everything you write serves as a promotional piece for everything you've already written. Readers who buy one book you've written and enjoyed it will be more inclined to buy others.
- Every book or short story you publish should contain a 1-2 page list of all the other items you've written (or at least as many as fit on 1-2 pages). This should appear near the front of your book, so that someone downloading a sample of your book will see this information in the sample.
- Digital sales count for 20-30% of a typical book's sales today.
- Digital self-publishing is a boon to authors. Traditional publishers paid about 8-10% of a book's cover price to the author, about 6-9 months after the sale was made. Digital publishing through organizations like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo pay about 70% of the cover price in 60 days after the sale.
- You shouldn't adopt the narrow view that you're "writing a story". Think of it as "developing an intellectual property". Think about other ways you could distribute the content (audio books, podcasts, related short stories, etc.). For your particular content, these could be more profitable venues for you.
- When you choose or create cover artwork, remember that your cover should look good at sizes ranging from postage stamps (as seen in a typical online book listing) all the way to iPad Retina Displays.
- Be sure to hire a good editor and proofreader to look over your work before publishing it.
- In your e-Books, be sure to include a revision number, build number, or other value, This way, when a reader reports that they've found typos or errors in your work, you can identify the correct draft to look at.
In addition to the industry and self-publishing information, Stackpole also shared important information about building an online presence:
- Remember that different potential readers for your work may not all use a given social media tool. For example, those who are avid Facebook users may not follow Twitter. Get your message out to a variety of outlets to reach the most people.
- It's important to think about your online image. You want to come across as positive, confident, successful, hard-working, persevering, and friendly to your readers. If you're struggling with characterization, for instance, don't share that. Do not show yourself "warts and all" to your readers. This is a recipe for disaster.
- When critics arise, you should generally not respond to them. There are too many ways it can go badly for you. For example, you might write a scathing retort to a mean-spirited comment on your blog, only to find that the commenter was a young child. Suddenly, you've become the author who "beat up" little Janie online. Not a reputation you want to foster.
- Everything you post online doesn't have to be a story or book. What is important, though, is that it be entertaining or informative to a reader. A blog post about how you spent the day trying to overcome writer's block is probably not entertaining. Telling a story about how your grandmother used to cheer you up when you got stuck by baking you cookies may be entertaining.
- Think of your blogging, tweeting, etc., as building an audience. You want your audience to see you as a good person who works hard, overcomes problems, and treats others well. Share some of who you are with them but not everything. It's like developing yourself as a brand.
When it comes to digital publishing, one of Mike's strongest pieces of advice was that there is no reason whatsoever not to digitally self-publish your work… even if you're trying to sell it to a publisher. If you succeed in selling it, you can always take the book off the market. If you don't succeed in selling it, you may at least be earning something from it