18892965_10213701312467317_221280445819670687_nI’ve been looking at ways lately to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I have been attending some of these festivals for years and have seen my sales plateau. Since these events cost money for the space and sometimes hotel and travel, I want to be able to maximize my sales.

Events like a festival are also great places to sell because you are generally selling at retail. You are keeping the retailer, distributor, and wholesaler cuts. I usually use some of that to create a deal that the customer can’t get in a store while still giving me more profit than if I sell the books through other channels. I make it a win-win to give them incentive to buy at the event rather than going home and buying the book off Amazon.com (which they still do sometimes).

So here are some things that I’ve tried or am in the process of trying to improve my event sales.

Keep Writing

My main purpose in attending these events is to do direct selling to my customers. It works, and I am happy to say that I have many customers who return year after year to see me at events and purchase my new books. That being the case, I’d better have new books to sell them.

You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to be continually working on a project. I work on multiple projects. I might be writing one book while researching my next. You want to have at least one book a year being released. Indie authors can generally do even more because they are not held hostage to their publisher’s timetable. 384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_n

Expand Your Genres

I generally write in the history and historical fiction genres, but I have ideas for other books. Two years ago, I decided that I would write some of these books under a pen name (J. R. Rada). The pen name wasn’t to hide who I am but to create a separate brand so my history readers wouldn’t be shocked to read a fantasy or horror novel.

Part of the reason that I finally made this jump was because I would often see potential customers looking over my titles and then say, “I don’t read history.” Now, when they say it, I have an alternative to point out to them.

I have to say this has been more successful for me online than at festivals. Festival attendees like the local appeal of a topic more, but I have been selling my horror, fantasy, and YA works. I expect the sales will continue to grow as I work more under the pen name.

Impulse Buyers

I’ve spoken with two other authors in the past few months who offer more than books at their festival tables. One told me it was profitable, but not a major part of his sales. The other one said that the additional products that he offers are the reason that horror conventions where he can sell 50 books are profitable for him.

I even saw an example of this in action this past weekend. My son attended a WWII weekend with me. On the afternoon of the last day (the slowest time), he decided that he wanted to go into business. He found a vendor at the event who also sold wholesale. He bought some Lego-style minifigure sets at wholesale prices and began selling them at retail prices ($3). He quickly started making sales. My estimate is that he could have made $400 if he had been selling during the whole event.

So I will also start offering $5 copper coins with a historical theme on them. In addition, a friend who deals in coins offered me a small box of tokens made from pieces of the Statue of Liberty. I’m hoping that this will add about $300 to my gross sales at my next festival. If it works, I will be expanding the variety of copper coins that I offer.

The key to offering other products is that it should tie into your genre. One author I know writes about the Civil War and also offers small lead busts of Civil War generals. The horror author I know offers horror character t-shirts and horror scenes in snow globes.

Other Buyers

Some festival attendees will walk right past an author tent because they aren’t interested in books. I can capture the impulse buyers with a low-price line of products. These products have a small profit margin, though.

I wanted something that could really help my sales while tying in with my books. I won’t say what it is now because I want to try it out first, but the retail prices are $5 to $25 for the products of which half is profit.

The big feature of a festival is traffic. You have thousands, even tens of thousands of potential customers. I want to attract as much of that traffic to my tent as I can and have something that will appeal to them to buy.

That’s how I plan on continuing to make festivals a profitable venue for my books.

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checklist-clipart-response-clipart-clipart-pencil-checklistSo in the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how going the extra mile and developing a relationship with the editor. For this final piece, I’m going to look at how becoming an expert in your field will help you get more assignment.

I’m not talking about getting a degree in every subject you want to write about. You can become an expert by writing extensively about the subject.

This is something that comes with time. As you consistently work with a magazine, your work may tend to fall into a niche. Usually, my niche is history, but I’ve written two stories with Hagerstown Magazine that accidentally turned out to be health stories. I’ve also written health stories from time to time with other magazines. I now have a niche in health writing.

As you start to develop a niche, the editor will begin to recognize you as such. You will become the magazine’s go-to person for that topic. It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the magazine other stories, it’s just what you’ll become known for. When I first contacted the editor of Allegany Magazine about doing stories for him, he was very excited because he was a fan of my column, so he knew my work and was anxious for me to do local history articles for the magazine.

That’s not to say I only do history articles for the magazines. I’m working on a feature piece now about a local bookseller’s experience running a bookstore in Ireland.

Becoming the go-to person: The benefit of becoming an expert is that when the editor is looking to assign a story in your niche, you’ll be the first person to come to mind. The bad news is that you won’t be the first person to come to mind if it’s not your niche.

Extra benefits of being an expert: Becoming the go-to person for a topic leads to more than just editors contacting you with assignments about your topic. I know a man in Cumberland who collected historic postcards and pictures for years about Western Maryland. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, he published them in numerous books. He is considered the go-to man for local history in Cumberland and he is the first person everyone thinks about when they need a photo, a judge for a contest, a speaker, etc.

Continually improve your writing skills: Another aspect of becoming an expert includes becoming an expert writer. I’ve been writing professionally since 1988 and I still look for ways to improve and expand my skills. Never stop learning.

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adult-2242164_640Last week, I wrote about how to get more freelance assignments by going the extra mile. This week, I want to talk about how to get more assignments by developing a relationship with the editor.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about becoming buddies so that the editor does his or her friend a favor and gives you work. I’m talking about developing a professional relationship where you work well together to create an excellent finished product.

When you first start working with an editor, you are strangers. You may not have met or even spoken to one another. However, as the saying goes, “The work speaks for itself.” As you submit assignments, the editor begins to trust your ability to meet deadlines and deliver quality work.

Don’t underestimate the value of that trust. Chances are editors work with dozens of different writers and not all of them are professional or dependable. The fact that you are puts you a few steps ahead of them.

What’s the value of this to you? It means your stories will get accepted easier. A borderline idea might be rejected if the editor doesn’t know the writer, but if the editor knows you, he or she may be more willing to take a chance. I’ve had stories assigned to me after just writing a sentence or two to the editor about an idea.

Another nice thing is that once editors know what you can do and how well you do it, they may contact you to write stories. I love when this happens because it means that’s less work I have to do coming up with a story and querying different markets. I just had this happen recently when I ran into an editor I know and she asked me if I was interested in taking on an assignment that she had.

Meeting deadlines

I mention meeting deadlines a lot as a talk about freelance writing. That’s because I have been an editor who has had to wait and see if a new writer is going to deliver a story on time and in what shape it will be.

You may think being a little late is fine because the magazine the article is supposed to appear in is not due out for a couple months, but you have to understand that your deadline is just an early one in a series of deadlines that will allow the magazine to come out on time. There is some wiggle room, but not as much as you might think. Besides, it’s not your call whether it should be given to you or not.

That being said, sometimes you will run into problems. The story doesn’t work out the way you expect, interviewees don’t get back to you, or you might get sick or have an accident. Things happen. If you do run into a problem that will keep you from hitting your deadline, contact your editor as soon as possible and see what can be done.

Editors won’t hold it against you if you have a legitimate excuse. Don’t dawdle and waste your time with the story, though. Most editors will give you at least a month to complete your article. That sounds like a lot of time. You’d be surprised at how quickly it can disappear when you’ve got other things that need to be done.

I’ve gotten into the habit of creating my own mini-deadlines. For instance, when I had four articles due one month, instead of doing each in bits and pieces, I set it up so I could focus and finish one each week.

You might also want to prioritize. If focus most of my efforts on completing the story that is due the soonest while doing a little bit on any other articles that are coming due in the next month. This might be researching, interviewing, or transcribing notes. I do these things bit by bit so that when each story gets the focus of my attention, I’m ready to write.

Next week, I’ll finish up by talking about becoming an expert.

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magazine-806073_640I’ve been doing freelance writing in one form or another for 25 years now. When I started out, I was getting only a few assignments to write articles. Nowadays, I have plenty of work, and the best part is that many times the editor offers me the assignment without me having to send a query letter.

So I thought I would share some tips with you to improve your odds at getting the assignment. Many of these are quite simple, even logical, but I have run into writers over the years who have neglected them and then wonder why their query letters are rejected.

Going the Extra Mile

  1. Reply quickly to any inquiries made by editors. You would like them to do it for you, do it for them. This includes being quick about proofing. The quicker you are in responding, the more time they have to do their thing. I have had more than one editor thank me for doing a quick turnaround on a project.
  2. Be willing to be edited. Your words aren’t gospel. Unless an edit is incorrect, be willing to consider and accept the changes. You are being paid for the work.
  3. Add extra information when appropriate. For example, provide captions for any pictures you submit.
  4. If you are submitting pictures with your article, submit more than needed so the editor had plenty to choose from.
  5. Keep to the assigned word length. I’m not saying that you have to hit the number spot on, but you should stay within 10 percent of the assigned length. If you fall too far short, your story may no longer meet its purpose. For instance, your short feature story, might only be the length of a department piece. If you go too far over the limit, you are creating extra work for the editor who will have to edit the piece down to the proper length.
  6. Produce quality work. Always turn in the best story you can write. Poor work won’t win you more assignments.

By going the extra mile, you make an editor’s job easier. If you’re doing that, when an editor is considering who to assign stories to, you will be topmost in his or her mind as a writer who not only provides good work but also relieves some of the stress of their job.

Next week, I’ll provide some tips for developing a long-term relationship with an editor.

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James-Stewart-early-publicity-pictureI’m a big James Stewart fan from his naïve characters to his western gunfighters to his psychologically tortured characters. I’ve got most of his movies, his two TV series, and even his radio series.

I became a fan in college when I had to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for an American history class. I loved the movie and started watching others. My second movie was It’s a Wonderful Life. Needless to say, after those two movies I was hooked.

I’m not the only one either. James Stewart is a national icon who avoided much of the bad behavior that so many TV and movie stars fall into.

I was a little hesitant to read Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn because the first review I saw of the book seemed to make it sound like it was a book out to tear down Stewart’s public image.

So I passed. However, it was on sale as a Kindle version, I decided to chance it. I’m glad that I did. While some of the elements of the first review are in the book, the reviewer must have focused on the negatives because it bore little semblance to what I read.

Munn was friend of Stewart and his wife, Gloria, from the 1970s on. He writes in an easy flowing style that was filled with lots of personal anecdotes. It also included interviews with many of Stewart’s friends and co-stars.

Much of the story I was familiar with; Stewart’s shyness, his love of comics, his friendship with Henry Fonda, his war service, and his patriotism. However, I still enjoyed reading it again because Munn brought in some fresh viewpoints from his experiences and other stars’ experiences. 220px-Brig._Gen._James_M._Stewart

Some of the new stuff I read about was that he supposedly had an explosive temper. It took a lot to anger him, but when he reached that point, he was apparently a volcano. Luckily, it didn’t happen often.

Stewart supposedly did undercover surveillance for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. This was the most-interesting new tidbit. As hard as it is to believe, it is also believable.

He also had some complex love affairs, particularly with Margaret Sullavan.

The book also talks about the roles that Stewart was considered for and ultimately didn’t do. It is interesting to imagine how those films might have looked had Stewart been the start. It is also interesting how many of Stewart’s films were considered failures when they were released but have ultimately come to be considered classics.

The one thing I didn’t like about the book was that Munn seems to want to paint racist. Although he can’t show anything outright that would make a person think Stewart was a racist, he tries to read behind comments and actions of Stewart to see something. This was also the aspect that the review I first read played up.

All in all, it was a great book. It left me with a more well-rounded opinion of Stewart while still leaving intact my opinion that he was also a great American and a wonderful person.

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logo2xFollowing up on my previous post, here are some of the pros and cons that I have found working with IngramSpark.

.pdf Files

I find both IngramSpark and CreateSpace relatively easy to work with, especially if you upload .pdf files instead of .doc files. One author I gave this tip to, told me later that it eliminated 90 percent of the problems that he was having with getting his book published on CreateSpace. A .pdf file locks in your fonts and placement of text and images.

TIP: Upload .pdf files when publishing paperback books.

I found that even when I used a CreateSpace template and uploaded a Word document, the last line of text on a page might rollover to the next page, throwing off my entire document.

Cover templates

I like the cover template tool on IngramSpark. Rather than having to make calculations like I do with CreateSpace, I plug in the dimensions of the books, the number of pages, and the type of book I’m publishing. Then I’m sent a template via e-mail. That said, I’ve done three of four books using the template, but right now, I’m having some problems getting my new cover through the system. I’m not sure yet what the problem is.

Currency conversion

I wish IngramSpark automatically converted U.S. prices to foreign prices as CreateSpace does. I have to enter my U.S. price into an online currency converter four different ways and then enter the foreign prices into my IngramSpark set-up. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it is a pain to do.

ISBNs

The biggest headache that I’ve had with setting up my books on IngramSpark has been with ISBNs. I have my own ISBNs and ISBNs that I thought I had purchased from CreateSpace. There was a time, if you had a Bowker’s publisher code, you could purchase a $10 ISBN from CreateSpace that would show your company as the publisher. Thus, you avoided the problem of a free ISBN that showed CreateSpace as the book publisher, which some indie bookstores hesitate to support, or the custom $99 ISBN.

TIP: Set up a publisher account with Bowkers.com and purchase 10 ISBNs for $250. It’s cheaper than publishing a custom ISBN from either CreateSpace or IngramSpark, and you will own the ISBN.

To transfer my book titles to IngramSpark, the first thing you need to do is remove the CreateSpace book from any of the expanded distribution options you might have selected. Then you have to submit a Title Transfer Addendum to IngramSpark. This is supposed to only take a few days, but my experience with transferring half a dozen books, it has taken weeks. The transfer needs to happen, or you can’t complete the IngramSpark set-up process.

TIP: Set up your Ingram paperback first with your own ISBN. Then while the files are being reviewed, set up the CreateSpace paperback. I did this, and the process went smoothly with no delays.

I got a shock when I was told that I wouldn’t be able to transfer some of my ISBNs. These were the ones that had an ISBN that I purchased for $10 from CreateSpace. I thought were mine (they even show on my Bowker’s page), but I was told that these ISBNs are still owned by CreateSpace and won’t transfer.

To get around this, I have to set up a new version of my book using my ISBN and publish a new edition. Then I have to unpublish the other edition.

The end game

Transferring files and setting up a new edition on a new site is a pain, but my hope is that the end result will be that more stores are willing to carry my books. That will translate to increased sales, and that makes it worth the inconvenience.

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logo2xI’ve been slowly shifting the distribution of my books from CreateSpace to IngramSpark. Both services make physical copies of books available through Ingram. However, I discovered that CreateSpace apparently doesn’t offer the typical 40 percent discount to bookstores. This makes it a deterrent to bookstores to carry CreateSpace books.

While IngramSpark offers a better discount to booksellers, it costs more to print books with IngramSpark. Also, books printed with IngramSpark apparently show with a shipping delay on Amazon.com.

You can have the advantages of both, though. You accomplish this by listing your book with IngramSpark and CreateSpace (without choosing the expanded distribution options). Doing this, you have your book listed on Amazon.com with no shipping delays, and you can order physical copies at the better price from CreateSpace. At the same time, bookstores can order your books with the typical discounts from IngramSparklogo-csp-no-tm

The other advantage you get with using IngramSpark is that you can publish your book in hardback format. I don’t expect many hardback sales, but I like that I can offer the book. I have two books that I’ve always been disappointed that I couldn’t publish as hardback because they are designed to be more like a tabletop book. They were the first two hardbacks that I set up on CreateSpace, and I was happy with the finished product.

Now, I’m not saying having your book in IngramSpark will get your book into stores, but it will help. Barnes & Noble still doesn’t like stocking print-on-demand books, but I have found other chains willing to offer my books (at least at a local level) when they can get a standard discount. This actually confuses me because I was willing to offer those stores a better deal than they could get through Ingram if they dealt with me directly. Corporate policy wouldn’t allow it, though. Go figure.

For now, take a look at IngramSpark. Get your account set up and familiarize yourself with what’s on the site.

Next week, I’ll talk about the hiccups that I’ve run into and how I’m working around them.

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downloadI like Robert McCammon’s books, although I wouldn’t call myself a fan. The exception if Boy’s Life. I’ve probably read this book four times now, and I rarely read a book more than once because I have so many of them in my “To Read” pile. There’s something magical about Boy’s Life, though.

When I read it the first time, I thought that it would be a horror novel as most of McCammon’s novels are. However, while there are some scary moments in the book, by and large, it is a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

The story centers around Cory Jay Mackenson who lives in the small Alabama town of Zephyr in the 1960’s. The books is essentially a series of vignettes about his life and the unusual happenings in the town. There’s bootleggers, water monsters unleashed by a flood, a dog that won’t die because it is too loved, and an ancient dinosaur in a carnival sideshow.

All of these stories are held loosely together with a mystery. Cory and his father see a car go off the road and into the town lake, which is said to be bottomless. Cory’s father dives into the lake to help and sees a naked corpse handcuffed to the steering wheel. It’s a sight that haunts him.

The story is beautifully written. If there is one thing wrong with it, it’s that I found the subplots vastly more interesting than what was supposed to be the main story.

Although my childhood was ten years later, I can still see elements of it in McCammon’s storytelling. He tells a beautiful story through the eyes of a young boy. It has the sense of wonder that children experience.

While To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful coming-of-age story that is accurate and believable, Boy’s Life captures the magic of a young boy’s life.

I remember building forts and fighting fake monsters and bad guys. I remember my friends and I riding bikes, racing go-karts, and exploring the woods behind where I lived. We had once place where we would play and pretend that it was another world.

When I read Boy’s Life, I think back on my childhood and think that if what I used to imagine had been real, it would have been a lot like Boy’s Life.

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images

How I see libraries.

 

I happened to stop in the library of a community library the other day. It looked gorgeous. It was bright and open with lots of couches and armchairs. I walked around looking for the books and only found a small area of about half a dozen rows of books.

I thought there must be other stacks somewhere else. I walked up the librarian and asked where their local history area was. She took me back to the shelves and pointed out the small area to me. I asked her where the other books were.

She said that the shelves held all of the physical books they had. The rest of their library was digital. So this community college has a library that is smaller than the library of the typical elementary school.

I was floored by this.

I am not against ebooks. I read them and listen to them often. However, when I research, I like having the book open in front of me (usually multiple books).

iStock_000002193842XSmall

How my desk usually looks when I’m researching. It wouldn’t be easy to do with e-books.

The librarians seemed unconcerned that they were nearly all digital, but I know a lot of the books that I use for research are not available in a digital form. They are too old and aren’t seen as having enough interest to justify digitizing them. I’ve also heard people complain about modern texts being digital because their layouts can be awkward to use, particularly if there are charts and other graphics in the book. These are just the types of books that I would expect to find in a college library.

The small liberal arts college near my house has a nice multi-floor library with some of the floors filled nearly entirely with books.

I’m not saying that e-books don’t belong in a college library, but it seems that in the case of the community college, the physical books were sacrificed.

Am I wrong in thinking this? What are your thoughts?

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I saw this story yesterday, and I got a kick out of it. How many times have you seen a sign with a misspelling or grammar error? I especially get peeved when I see one that is on a permanent sign. Not only did someone decide to write the signed incorrectly, but someone else approved it, and a third person printed it that way. Now their poor English education is immortalized.

Apparently, it got to be too much for this guy who took matters into his own hands and became a “grammar vigilante.” It reminds me of the Studio C skit about Captain Literally and The Grammar League.

 

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Click to watch the video

 

The Grammar Vigilante’s tool of choice is an apostrohiser, which a “a broom handle laden with two sponges and a number of stickers,” according to the UK Telegraph. The newspaper reported that he has been replacing or removing misplaced apostrophes throughout Bristol, England, over the past 13 years.

He told the newspaper, “People might say what I am doing is wrong, but it is more of a crime to have the apostrophes wrong in the first place.”

Reactions to the Grammar Vigilante’s efforts have been mixed. Some don’t mind being corrected, while others feel like it defaces a sign that may have cost thousands to produce. So far, police haven’t received any complaints about his efforts.

You can read the Telegraph article here.

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