Should I publish an old screenplay?

When I first started writing, I wrote screenplays exclusively.  I actually completed 12 before I attempted my first novel.  The first book I published was the fifth book I wrote.  So, I’ve always considered rewriting some of those early books and publishing them through Kindle and my friends at CreateSpace, but my wife just prompted another idea.  She asked me about my screenplay titled Never Living.  It got mild, mild buzz many moons ago, even making it as far as the semi-finals round of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  I almost got to thank the Academy!  I had never considered publishing one of my screenplays before, but Kindle and CreateSpace make it so incredibly easy, I’m thinking of doing it.  It’s fiction, but it is not formatted like a novel.  I would leave it in it’s original screenplay format.  And it is nothing like my Young Adult novesl or my adult titles.  It is a contemporary story that is probably influenced by Woody Allen and Charlie Kaufman.

What do you think?  Should I publish Never Living?

Metric Junkie – An Amazon Sales Ranking Fix for My Author Friends

Feeding Your Ranking Addiction

That’s “fix” as in a desperate fulfillment of a need.  Most of my author friends and colleagues have a borderline obsession with a little something called “Amazon Sales Ranking” (ASR- Street name “Ranking”).  I’m among this group of pathetic addicts that can’t get enough of measuring our self-worth through the sales rankings of our books on the world’s biggest online purveyor of books.  It’s like watching the score of a championship football or basketball game, only this game never ends.

Some authors will deny having a Ranking addiction, but most of them are lying.  They don’t want you to know that the first thing they do in the morning is go to the Amazon website and look up their book’s Ranking -The higher the Ranking the better the emotional high.  If your Ranking is low, a sinking depression begins your day. Some have such a bad Ranking addiction that they will check every hour, even wake up in the middle of the night to get their Ranking fix.  If you have several books on Amazon, you could spend all day Ranking.

For those authors brave enough to admit you have a Ranking problem, I have a little present for you.  I discovered a website called Metric Junkie that will track your Amazon Rankings for you.  It’s pretty cool.  It won’t help you stop Ranking, but it will give you all your ranks at once, you can even track Rankings of other books.

I pulled this from their “Features” page:

  • FREE to use
  • HOURLY AUTOMATIC COLLECTION of Amazon “Sales Rank” for books you track
  • VIBRANT INTERACTIVE GRAPHS present your “Sales Rank in a meaningful way, allowing you to quickly determine the effectiveness of your sales promotions, media campaigns, & social networking buzz
  • USER-FRIENDLY INTERFACE cleanly displays information in an intuiative and easy to follow format
  • CHA-CHINGER™ TECHNOLOGY shows you when a sale has occurred for any book you track
  • MARKET SHARE APPROXIMATOR™ shows you how your product stacks-up against your competitions
  • GROUPS allow you to organize your collection into smaller more manageable categories
  • PRINTABLE CHARTS allow you to take your information with you to review off-line at your favorite coffee house

So, there you have it, safe Ranking via Metric Junkie.  Use it wisely, and remember, you’re still a good person even if your Ranking sucks.

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The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling

It's about to get "shark week" all up in here!

It’s a fact.  When sharks smell chum in the water they go into a vicious feeding frenzy, and brother, the chum is in the water.  On April 14, Bowker released their annual report on the publishing industry.  There were 764,448 self-published titles (the category is officially called non-traditional and it includes public domain books being republished) produced last year.  That’s up from about 280,000 in 2008.  And the projections for this year say even more books will be self-published than in 2009.  A lot of people want to write and publish a book.  A study done by the Jenkins Group a few years ago revealed that 81% of Americans feel they have a book inside of them.  That means one thing.  Scammers are foaming at the mouth.

The publishing industry is notorious for the sheer volume of disreputable people preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.  These sharks count on your ignorance of the publishing industry.  They are going to make you promises, guarantees, pledges, assurances, whatever it takes to get you to buy their services. They want your money, and you’re going to be very tempted to hand it over to them because this is your dream, after all.    Shouldn’t you be expected to invest everything you have to make it come true?

No.  Publishing is a high risk venture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or you’re a traditional publisher, statistics indicate that you are going to fail.  I don’t tell you this to scare you off.  I tell you this as part of your education.  In the traditional publishing world, roughly 70% of titles produced lose money.  The percentage of failure  is even higher in the self-publishing world.  I self-publish, so obviously I am a fan of self-publishing, but I have learned the amount of money invested in a book is not commensurate with its success.  Time is what matters the most.

Here are few facts, tips and a few of my personal opinions to keep in mind as you consider your publishing options:

  • Self-Publishing is Awesome – There are dinosaurs among us, and they will likely advise you against self-publishing. They’ll use the “vanity” word to degrade the practice, and try to convince you it’s not a legitimate publishing vehicle.  Those people are bozos, and they are as bad as the scammers.  Self-publishing is the ultimate “independent” form of publishing.  You have just as much right to sell your book to the public as an independent filmmaker has to sell his movie to the public.  Having said that, you want to spend wisely.
  • Be Wary of Agents Who Talk About Self-Publishing – Believe it or not, some self-publishing companies pay agents if they refer a writer to their company and that writer signs up for a publishing package.   It’s a deplorable practice.  Literary agents should only be concerned with getting clients to sign with traditional publishing companies.  The only payment they receive should be from their clients’ advances and royalties.  Anything else is a scam.
  • Paying To Be a Top 10 Book on Amazon – It’s called Amazon Bombing, and I don’t like it, particularly if you pay a company to set it up for you.  It’s a practice that basically uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to catapult your book to the top 10 for one day.  In many cases, it’s just one hour of one day.   You will quickly free fall out of the top 10 listing. They utilize emailing spamming techniques, newsletter lists, shady “free gift” packages, etc., and they will charge you $2,500 and up for the service.  This kind of top 10 listing serves no purpose.  A few years ago, it would capture the attention of the publishing industry and media, but they’re onto the scam now.  If you’re book can stay in the top 10 for a couple of days, then they will be impressed.
  • $20,000 for a Book Trailer – I’m going to mention them by name because this really pisses me off.  AuthorHouse (Author Solutions) sells a video book trailer service for $19,999.  BTW – Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s 20 grand, okay.  This is the supreme rip-off.  They call it a Hollywood trailer, and it’s for those authors who’ve been told their book would make a great movie.  First of all, most authors have been told their book would make a great movie.  AuthorHouse is preying on your vulnerability with this ridiculous product.  Second of all, the examples they have on their website are so cheesy it’s disgusting.  How effective is the product?  I just checked the Amazon ranking of one of the books featured, and its current ranking is 3,171,502.  The author paid $20,000.  I ask you, did the author get anywhere near their money’s worth?  I would never recommend AuthorHouse because of this product alone.  It shows a willful lack of integrity.  How much should you pay for a book trailer?  If you pay $3,000, you’ve paid too much.  I made my ownfor about $250, but that doesn’t count the cost of college tuition (I got my degree in broadcast production).
  • Mainstream Media – Never pay to be in or on mainstream media.  Don’t buy advertising in newspapers or on TV or radio.  And certainly never pay to be a guest on a radio or TV show.  Mainstream media does not help you sell books.  If someone wants to have you on their show and it costs you nothing out of pocket, by all means do it That’s a case of “it can’t hurt,” but unless it’s a national show with a huge audience, it’s not going to do much for you except give you something to talk about on your blog, which is useful.
  • Designers and Editors – This is where it’s okay to invest some money.  Interior and cover design matters.  And professional editing is crucial.  If you’re talking with a POD company, this is where you should spend most of your budget.  The in-house guys are usually very talented, and bonus, they know the company’s specs and policies.  If you go out of house, make sure you get them to sign a contract where they will guarantee you that they will hit the specs you need. You don’t want them to bail on you, and leave you with paying the bill when the POD company has to bring your submission up to spec.  Editing is a little more universal than design specs, so out of house editors can work great, but make sure you find somebody you trust.  If you’ve got a good relationship with the sales person at the POD company, why not use their in-house editors?  Push back on pricing if it makes you feel better.  Most of the time they will give you a discount.

I’ll end it here for now, but I will have more to say in the future.  I’m watching the self-publishing industry like a hawk.  They get out of line, I’ll be there.  Count on it.  This business means too much to me to let the sharks attack.  Ultimately, the onus is on you, the writer.  Educate yourself.  There are no guarantees in publishing.  Well one… you’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t protect yourself.  Knowledge is king.

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Do Self-Published Authors Need Barnes & Noble?

Little Known Fact: I played the bearded love interest in 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful."

No need to prolong the suffering.  Let’s just rip the band-aid off.  Barnes & Noble doesn’t want to carry your self-published print-on-demand book.  In fact, they are annoyed that you would even ask.  It’s nothing personal.  They have limited bookshelf space and they are selling a product that is losing market share to other forms of entertainment.  From a business perspective, they want books that are going to carry the smallest amount of risk.  They want books that have the best possible chance of disappearing from the shelves and turning into profit.  Your self-published book with its limited marketing budget and your author’s name that has zero brand recognition just doesn’t fit the bill.  Not to mention they get a sweet returnable deal with major traditional publishers that basically gives them 90 days to sell the book or return it with no financial penalty.  In other words, it’s just business, and they are only annoyed with you because you are about the 100th POD author to ask in the last hour.  Barnes & Noble is not a bad company.  They are not trying to think of ways to prevent you from selling your book in their store.  They are trying to make money.

Do they think your book is crap because it’s self-published?  Probably, but that really doesn’t enter into their decision.  Plenty of crap is published by traditional publishers, and they have no problem carrying those books. They don’t care that your book is well written or is designed well or even won an award or two.  They just want to know what you’re going to do to get the books out of their stores once they agree to shelve them.  And frankly, you can’t match what the traditional publishers are offering them.  I’m blunt because I care, and I don’t want to see you waste your time.

You don’t need brick and mortar bookstores, and if you think you do, you shouldn’t use POD.  It’s not for you.  If you’re POD, and you’re trying to solve the brick and mortar puzzle, STOP!  You know all those goofy romantic comedies where the unpopular guy is always trying to get the homecoming queen, while totally ignoring the cute geeky girl who is madly in love with him?  Well, in this case, you’re the unpopular guy making a huge mistake by not seeing the opportunity right in front of your face.  Amazon is your geeky girl, and she’s head over heels for you, my POD friend. But she’s not just a geeky girl.  She’s a very popular geeky girl. Stop ignoring her, and get on with the relationship.  How?

Concentrate your efforts on building your personal brand online.  Make a name for yourself through all the personal branding tools, blogs, social media, podcasts, Youtube, etc.  Use that energy you would have used to get into brick and mortar stores to no avail and drive traffic to your Amazon detail page.  You have all the power to sell your book online where you are wanted.  Why are you wasting your time and energy trying to sell in an arena where you have no power and you’re not wanted?

I close with one piece of advice.  If you’re considering a POD company that has convinced you that they can get you into brick and mortar stores, run away as fast as you can.  They can’t.  They aren’t going to spend a second of time trying to place your book in brick and mortar bookstores.    They want you to buy into their returnable program, mostly likely with Ingram.  This will include your book in Ingram’s database, but they won’t carry any inventory in their warehouse.  Your book will be available as a special order title.  Someone will have to enter the store and ask for your book to be ordered.  So, I ask you, if the returnable program doesn’t mean you’re going to get shelf space, what is its value?

Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.

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“How do I get on Oprah?” – The Question Every Book Publicist & Marketing Guru Hates to Hear.

"How do I get on Oprah?"

If I was asked once, I was asked a thousand times.  Every author wants to know the secret for getting on Oprah.  Traditionally published, self-published, unpublished – It doesn’t matter.  Too many authors think they have a book that is perfect for Oprah’s show or worse yet, they think they have a book Oprah will love.

I get it.  It’s Oprah.  She moves books.  But if you think getting a publishing deal is tough, try getting on Oprah to promote your book.  I’ve talked to probably over a thousand authors over the last five years, and I can think of maybe three occasions where I thought to myself, “This book is perfect for Oprah.”

Nonetheless, I’ve been asked the question so I often I researched the matter and came up with a strategy that may increase your chances of getting on Oprah.   There is no sure fire way of getting on Oprah to promote your book unless you’re Stedman or Gayle King… In fact, I don’t even think Stedman is guaranteed a spot on Oprah to sell his book.  But you can do a few things to better you odds.

  • Join Oprah’s community on her website and be an active member on her message boards.  Be relevant.  Be helpful.  Be professional.  The more you participate the more opportunities you have of being noticed by the right person on Oprah’s staff.
  • Monitor the website for upcoming shows.  You may get lucky and discover they will be doing a show on the topic of your book.  And it’s possible they may even need guests.
  • Submit articles and Op/Ed pieces to local area media outlets in Chicago.  Make a name for yourself in Oprah’s hometown.
  • Create personal videos of you talking about your book.  Showcase your on-camera abilities.
  • Don’t forget about the other TV shows.  The more media experience you have the better.  Click here to find a blog post I wrote about those other TV shows.

That’s it.  It’s not rocket science, and I can’t promise you any of this stuff will work. I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice.

Don’t pay anyone who says they can get you on Oprah.  They can’t.  It’s a scam.

Don’t send Oprah a copy of your book.  It will end up on a pile of unread books she receives daily.

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“Today, you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.”

Today’s headline is a quote from Brad Meltzer, author of numerous bestselling novels. Meltzer is one of the first authors credited with harnessing the power of the internet to sell books. He was interviewed in the New York Times recently for an article titled See the Web Site, Buy the Book. The article focuses on the growing importance on an author’s website in the publishing world. It seems not only are we judging a book by its cover, we’re also judging it by its website. This is something I talk about everyday with new and aspiring authors. I would take this one step further. It’s not just your website that sells a book, it’s your entire web presence. I do zero mainstream marking for my books. Everything is done through this blog, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc. My website (rwridley.com) is just a front page that directs you to this blog when you click on the freaky picture of me. I probably should have it professionally redesigned, but I’m just using it as a brand marker right now. Eventually, I will dish out the dough to have some kid with far superior graphics skills than me make it even more awesome!

If you’re an author, click on the New York Times’ article. You may be surprised that most web designers are paid directly by the author. You’ll also be directed to watch a video companion piece to a book by Naomi Klein. The book and video are titled Shock Doctrine. The video is below for your convenience. It is seven minutes long. Normally, I advise against videos longer than two minutes, but this is the exception to that rule. It’s powerful, compelling, and professionally produced, and I dare say will move some viewers to purchase the book.

If you’re an author reading this, ask yourself one question, “Am I Barnum enough?”

BTW – side note: I prefer the one word incarnation of the word website. The New York Times apparently is still holding onto the two word ‘design.’

Is the publishing industry dying?

The slush pile just got slushier!

The slush pile just got slushier!

Don’t make me pull out my Mark Twain quotes. Don’t do it. Don’t… okay, you asked for it. The rumors of the death of the publishing industry have been greatly exaggerated. Not exactly Twain, but you get the point. In December, 2008, the publishing industry went through some pretty significant downsizing, particularly among the giants in Manhattan. It sent a lot of people into an all out panic attack, and not just those people who lost their jobs. Authors are scrambling to find out what the cutbacks mean for them. And not just the previously published. The wannabes like me are among the inquiring minds. I have books on the market, but I use a subsidy publisher. My ultimate goal is to garner that all elusive publishing deal with a major house. That deal just got elusiver (before you hound me with comments, I know elusiver is incorrect or incorrecter).

The major houses are scaling down their acquisitions for 2009 & 2010. Red carpet and black ink* celebrities don’t have to worry. The deals are still going to be there for them, but little known and unknown writers are in for an even tougher next few years. We are going to have to buckle down and look for alternatives until the traditional publishing houses get their legs back and start taking risks again. But even then, the publishing industry will have a much different landscape. Don’t be surprised if you see a shift toward tie-in mergers. Film companies merging with publishing companies merging with online social communities merging with online video distribution companies merging with TV networks, etc. The media lines are about to be blurred in a big way.

The good news is the publishing industry is not dying. It’s changing. The money will be their again. The doors are going to open wider than ever before for people like you and me. The bad news is we just have to wait it out. Keep writing. Hone your craft. In other words, nothing much has changed from our perspective.

*Black Ink Celebrities are big name authors; J.k. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, etc.

Articles on the demise of the publishing industry:

Puttin’ Off the Ritz

Read it and weep

Blockbuster or Bust