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Happy-New-Year-2018-clipart-images-1024x640Welcome to 2018. I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons.

Last year was a great year for me on the business side of things. I sold more books and earned more money than I ever had as an author-entrepreneur. Hopefully, I’ve learned enough to replicate the results for 2018 and build on it. I did a lot more marketing last year and a lot more examining of the results of the marketing.

I had a couple missteps at the end of last year. One, I can correct. The other I will just have to keep in the back of my mind.

The thing I can correct is that I misjudged the demand for one of my new books and some stores ran out of copies. Not only was I embarrassed to have to tell the stores that I couldn’t get them copies before Christmas, I lost potential sales. This year, I will make sure to order more copies of my newer books for the Christmas season.

The thing I couldn’t really plan for was a customer who over ordered books for a fall event and then returned half of them in December. At that point, I didn’t have enough time to make up for the lost income by the end of the year. It wasn’t a crippling thing, but it broke the growing momentum I had been on the rest of the year.

I’ve got book projects planned for this year, and I have even made progress on all of them coming into the New Year, which makes it more likely that I’ll be able to get them out on time.

Since January and February are relatively slow times for me, I can hopefully get ahead on some projects and layout my marketing plan for rest of year. I’ve hit the ground running and plan to keep going.

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Empty_supermarket_shelves_before_Hurricane_Sandy_Montgomery_NYI’ve always thought that it would be a nice thing not to sell out of books. I’ve had it happen a couple times at festivals. It happens near the end of the festival usually. It’s flattering at first because there’s such a demand for the books.

In the case of festivals, I usually wind up taking orders and offering free shipping for delivery during the following week. Not everyone takes up the offer, though, and I undoubtedly lose some sales.

Those lost sales have slapped me on the head this month.

My book, Secrets of Garrett County, came out near the beginning of the year. It sold well, but sales had leveled off. I thought I had enough to meet the demand for the holiday season. Then in the middle of November, a big order came in for the title. I was able to fill that order, but it pretty much wiped out my inventory.

I ordered some more, but once we’re into the holiday season, it takes much longer to get a shipment. Usually, I can have a book ordered delivered within a week after placing it. Currently, I have an order that I placed 12 days ago and it still hasn’t shipped yet.

Meanwhile, in the past week and a half, I’ve had three stores and two individuals contact me trying to get copies of the book. I sold out of my last copies this past Saturday at a book signing at a store. The store owner wanted me to leave behind 10 more copies, but I couldn’t.

So how many sales won’t I get because a customer doesn’t want to wait until after Christmas to get their book? It’s a unique book, but it’s not an iPhone. People will just pick out another gift or another book, and I’ll lose the sale.

So it’s flattering that the book is in demand, but I need to do a better job of keeping books in stock. Even my 15-year-old son gets this. When I was preparing for a show that I had run out some titles before, he told me, “It’s better to have one book left at the end, than no books.” What he was telling me was that with one book left, at least I know I had met all the demand. With no books left, you’re not sure how many sales you lost.

I wonder how Santa keeps up with demand?

Usually, I do a better job managing my inventory. As an idie author, you have to otherwise, bookstores won’t want to work with you if you can’t get them copies of your titles.

I looked at the problems that I ran into this year and have made some adjustments for next year.

My problem this year has been that I’ve done a lot more fall festivals than usual. It has hindered my efforts to build up holiday inventory.

Next year, I plan on increasing the minimum number of copies that I have on hand before I reorder, to increase the size of my orders, and to place my holiday inventory orders at the beginning of November rather than the middle.

My hope is that these changes will keep me with a supply of all my titles. If I’m lucky, I will still run into supply problems, which will mean that demand continues to increase.

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I don’t really like having my picture taken, mainly because I don’t like the way I look in pictures. However, as I continue to develop my author brand and do more events, I find that I need one more often. Here’s the one that I am currently using. Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron JohnstonProfilePic

It works well enough, and I was happy enough with it. However, a couple years ago, I started writing under a pen name, J. R. Rada, for horror, fantasy, and young adult novels I write. I have been using the same picture, but I ask you, does that picture really work for a horror novel author photo?

That is when I started thinking about having professional author pictures made. I put it off because the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a studio and pose.

I even thought about not using an author pic. That idea quickly went out the window because I continued to get requests from hosts where I was speaking to submit a picture. I also started publishing hardback books where the author’s photo often takes up the entire back cover. I resisted that trend, but I still needed a smaller picture for the back cover flap.

Luckily, I know a talented photographer who is also an author. Will Hutchison talked me into letting him take some author headshots of me. He promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I still wasn’t comfortable going into a studio, but that wasn’t his fault. He worked to put me at ease and explained what he was doing. I just didn’t like trying to smile or not smile on cue. It’s something I don’t think about, and when I did think about it, it always felt forced.

Will turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, though. Thank heavens for the after-shoot editing.

Here are the two that I will be using in the future. The white background will be used on my James Rada, Jr. books (history, historical fiction) and the black background will be used on my J. R. Rada books (horror, fantasy, young adult).

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Even I can see the improvement over my old headshot. They look like author headshots. They make me look professional (which can be a challenge). I definitely think they will look better on book covers, too.

So, if you’re using a snapshot for your headshot. Think about making the change.

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096b0d8946bc2b824034ba68d473b09b647f2bb2-thumbIt’s been a year of firsts and new things in my writing career. It has paid off. By the end of September, I had made as much money and sold as many books as I did in 2016. It’s a testament to how beneficial stepping outside of your comfort zone can be.

One of the new things I’ll be trying tomorrow is my first, albeit mini, book tour. A group in Orrville, Ohio, has set me up to do five events in two days. They will also focus on promoting my biography of Chuck Caldwell who grew up in the town. I’m both excited and scared.

Who knows what the attendance will be? Will I be so exhausted after the drive there, that I come across as sluggish? Will I do Chuck’s story justice with the attendees?

I have to do my first event after a 5.5-hour drive. It’s a meet and greet and book signing at the community center there. Then I get a few hours where I can check into the hotel and take a nap before speaking at an invitation-only event at one of the historic sites in town. This is a dinner for people the historical society hopes to make a major donation to a fundraising campaign.

 

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Me and Chuck Caldwell at his house.

 

The next day, I will be spending all day at the high school talking to different history classes about Chuck. Then I have a couple hours on break before speaking at an informal dinner with the historical society board members. Following the dinner, it’s back to the high school for a presentation for the general public to help the high school alumni association.

Then it’s a good night’s sleep before heading back to Gettysburg on another 5.5-hour drive. With luck, I will have sold about 100 books, and that makes it worth all of the trouble.

I only wish Chuck could go along. He really wants to visit his hometown again. The last time he was there was in 2011 for his 70th high school reunion! He will turn 94 this month, and he doesn’t make long trips any longer.

My point with this post is the one I made earlier. I consider myself fairly introverted, but I have had to force myself outside my comfort in order to market my books. It has gotten easier over the years, and when it does, I take another step forward. I don’t always make the best impression when I begin trying something new, but I keep at it and improve.

It works for writers, and it works for just about everything else in life, too.

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20170624_092912            Writers need to network. It’s necessary to help improve your ability to write better and sell books.

One of the places where I’ve been able to grow my writers’ network is at the festivals and other events where I sell books.

I usually two or three writers at these events. Some are other writers like me who are selling at the festivals. Others are writers who are visiting the festival.

Unpublished Writers

The first type of writer I meet is someone who has written a book but is not published. Some of them are afraid to put their books to the mercy of the public. Others just don’t want to put in the time to do the marketing that books need. Others still think that it’s very expensive to publish a book.

Published Writers

The second type of writer is one who has a couple books published but they aren’t selling. If they were published by a mainstream publisher, they often feel that it’s the publisher’s job to market and sell the book. If they are indie published, they aren’t putting in the marketing time.

The result is that the books aren’t selling. These authors are cutting their own throats because publishers aren’t going to want to publish their next books if they can’t show a strong sales history on their previous books.

These authors believe that a successful author just has to be lucky. They ignore the fact that they need to work just as hard at the marketing as they did at the writing. When talking to these authors, I always tell them that they need to spend just as much time marketing as they do writing.

I’ve learned about new festivals. I’ve gotten the names of businesses and organization to contact about speaking or carrying my books. I’ve gotten tips to improve my sales. For instance, I learned about selling additional product lines from a fellow author.

Entrepreneurial Writers

The third type of authors are writers who are doing better than me. I love these authors because I get to pick their brains what they’re doing, what they like, and what kind of results they are seeing.

Yes, I do festivals to sell books, but I’m always looking for new ideas and new techniques to try and see what works and what doesn’t. I keep what works until it stops working for me or until I find something that works better with which to replace it.

This persistent move forward has allowed me to grow my business. It might not be happening as fast as I would like, but I am moving in the right direction.

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A part of the discussion among members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade this past Wednesday involved where to find festivals where we can sell our books.

Here are two websites that I use that make searching for festivals easy.

Festivalnet.com allows you to search for the details of festivals across the country for free. If you want more details, you can either join the website, or you can do a web search for the name of the festivals you find.

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I’ve been doing the latter, but it is becoming time-consuming so I will be joining with a basic level membership.

Given that the Gettysburg Writers Brigade is in Pennsylvania, I found another site called PA-vendors.com that gives, even more detail about Pennsylvania festivals than Festivalnet.com.

You can also find similar sites for festivals in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

So if you would like to find a long list of potential places where you can market your books, check out one of these websites.’

s-l500About a month ago, I wrote about ways that I’ve been trying to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I do well at festivals, but in talking with other vendors, I have realized that books aren’t the biggest sellers, although they probably have a better profit margin than many other items.

The reason that I want to maximize sales at festivals is because my costs for a festival are fixed. The booth space cost one price and my gas costs another. They don’t change whether I have more or less to sell.

One of the things that I talked about doing was to offer additional items for sale that are related to my books.

I have been selling 1 oz. copper coins with various designs on them for five festivals now. They have sold well. In fact, at a small event last Saturday, I sold four times more coins than books. That was the first time the coins outsold my books and it certainly made my attendance at that event worthwhile.

I also added hand-crafted coal figures for the past three festivals that I’ve done. The prices on these vary widely, but they have been selling. They tie in nicely with my book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, and I do some of my events in coal country.

The results? The extra items have added an average of 27 percent to each event’s gross sales. It’s definitely worth adding these items. I’m not sure how much of my annual income comes from festival sales, but I’m guessing that if that percentage holds, it will add a few thousand dollars to my income.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the shiny coins and varying size figures on display attract more people to the table. It’s easy to overlook books, but they are curious about the figures and what they are made of. They want to see what is on the coins.

Once they stop at the table, they tend to look at everything so I get a chance to pitch my books.

While I can say that the extra lines have increased the traffic to my booths, I can’t say for sure whether it has increased book sales. My sales have increased, but they were already increasing nicely before I introduced my additional lines.

So adding extra lines is one experiment that has proven successful.

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My two-table set up for weekend festivals.

Having a strong backlist of books is great for a writer. When I sell books at festivals, I am able to have a large display of different covers, genres, and sizes of books to attract readers. In fact, last year my show display grew from one table to two tables. A backlist also means that I have multiple ways to attract readers. Each title gives me a new opportunity to catch a reader’s eye.

 

That’s all great.

However, I’ve run into a drawback with having a library of 18 books, and it has been driving me crazy this past month.

Grammarly Review

I have started running all of my books through Grammarly to catch any mistakes my editors, readers, and I missed when the book was originally published. Surprisingly, given how many eyes were on the manuscripts, I have found too many. Running 18 books and a half a dozen e-books through the program takes times. I started doing this in December, and it could very well continue until next December.

Review Request

Since I  was reviewing each book, I also decided to make sure that all of the electronic editions had a review request at the back. I haven’t worried up until not about getting readers to post reviews of my books online. That delay has come back to bite me recently as I have tried to expand some of my marketing efforts. Some places that I have wanted to use to market my books want to see more reviews of the books. So I’ve had to detour some of my marketing in order to increase my Amazon.com reviews.

Book Descriptions

Last month, I learned some new techniques for writing book descriptions that I have also started applying to my book pages as I update them. This is not a single update. I need to make changes to a book on four different websites (Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, and Bowkers) to make sure the descriptions are all the same.

Hardback Editions

I recently discovered a way to accomplish two things that I have wanted to do for years. When I switched from doing offset printing to print-on-demand through Createspace, I stopped being able to get my books into physical chain bookstores. The three reason I heard for this were that the stores couldn’t get their typical discount when purchasing the books, they didn’t want to support Amazon.com, and stores can’t return print-on-demand books.

Up until now, I haven’t worried too much about it. I  have been making most of my sales through other channels. However, as my marketing efforts expand, I have started running into this roadblock more often.

I have discovered a way to use Ingram Spark and Createspace together. I can still get the books that I sell through Createspace, and customers purchasing books on Amazon will still see the books always in stock. Meanwhile, I can use Ingram Spark to get my books into the chain stores and offer a hardback edition.

I have wanted to offer hardbacks since I wrote No North, No South… It is an oversized book, which is typically printed as a hardback.  Since that time, I’ve written another tabletop book and a couple novels that I would have like to offer as hardbacks.

All of these are useful things for me to do. They each will have benefits to help me continue moving my career forwards. I recommend authors do all of these things. It’s just that having to do all of these things for all of my books is very, very time-consuming.

It’s happening, albeit slowly, but I’m excited to see the results.

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Challenge_Future_New_Year_ResolutionsLast week I looked at how I did with my 2015 writing resolutions. Now it’s time to set some goals for 2016. I tend to set my goals at the high end of scale so that I really have to work for it. That way, if I fail, I will probably be better off than if I had simply set a goal that I knew I could achieve. Also, if I fail, I usually leave that goal in place until I do hit it. I also like measurable goals so that I can gauge my progress.

Publish four books this year.

Having just one book ready to come out (It’s the first in a young adult series), this could really be a stretch. However, I have been working on a biography that I really want to get out this year and I have two other books that are possibilities. So I’ll go for the gold and see if I can get them all out. The biography will be one that messes up this goal if any of them do.

Attend 78 festivals, book signing, talks or other events.

Last year my goal was 50 events and I managed 56. This year, I decided on 78. It’s an unusual number, but it works out to be 1.5 events a week. I had 29 events set up coming into the new year and was contacted about 5 more yesterday, which gives me more than I had for 2014 (32 events). There are still festivals and book signings that I expect to do. Plus, one of the things I like about festivals besides meeting readers is that I tend to have people bring me ideas for articles and ask me to speak at their organizations. Another reason that I think I’ll be able to meet this goal is that with the introduction of the YA book, I will start marketing myself to schools, which should add to the number of events that I’ll do.

Increase the percentage of my income that comes from books to 50 percent.

Last year, although I sold more books than I ever had, the percentage of my income from book sales decreased to 38 percent while my income from articles jumped to 60. While I enjoy writing articles, my ultimate goal not have to write articles because I’m earning enough from my books sales to support my family. I would still write articles, but only the ones that I really want to. This means I’ll have to do a lot better at my book marketing, which I started trying to concentrate on during the last quarter of 2015.

Increase book sales by 33 percent.

This is a big goal and the one I’m least likely to hit. If I do miss it, I am sure I’ll still have sold more books than I did in 2015, which means it will be another personal best year. I want to give myself a goal that will make me work my butt off (but that’s a goal on my personal list as I work to lose weight).

Get all of my eligible physical books converted into e-books.

E-books are nowhere near a major part of my income and it is an area that I could really grow in order to help my previous goal. Most of my books are available as e-books, but there are still a few that I need to convert. I also have one e-book that I would like to turn into a physical book. Eventually, I would like to be able to release e-books and physical books at the same time.

Based on how things went in 2015, if I can come even halfway to achieving these goals, I will have a very  successful 2016.

Do free books work as a marketing tool? This is a hotly debated issue among the indie authors that I know. Some are quite vehement that since they put in all that time writing the book, they want to get paid for that work.

I understand that. I want to get paid, too. I think the difference between those who use free e-books and those who don’t is their view of their career. Authors who use free books as part of their marketing plan believe that giving away a book now will help them further down the road in building readership and therefore, more sales.

I did some revamping of my own marketing plan this fall and decided to use free books as part of it. The first way I implemented this strategy was to offer three free e-books to anyone who signs up for my mailing list. (If you’re interested, visit my website at jamesrada.com. You’ll find a signup at the bottom of the home page.)

The results were good, but I still need to tweak things a bit to optimize it.

chart free vs paid series starter               Smashwords recently released an updated survey that supports the use of free books. With more and more authors using free book promotions, the effectiveness has dropped off some, but it still works. The 2015 survey found that free books are downloaded 41 times more than a priced book. That is up a bit from 2014, but down significantly from 2012 and 2013.

However, what it shows is that free books are a great way to get your books read. What happens from that point is up to the author. If the book is well written, the reader will want more so authors need to make sure that it is easy for the reader to find more books by the author and buy them.

“A free book allows a reader to try you risk free, and if you’re offering them a great full length book, that’s a lot of hours the reader has spent with your words in which you’re earning and deserving their continued readership.  Free works!,” Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote in the survey.

Another item involving free books from the survey is that series that offer the first book free earn more money than those that don’t. Smashwords looked at 200 series with a first book free and 200 series that didn’t offer a free book. The survey looked at average earnings and the median earnings of the series. Both ways showed that series using free books earned 66 percent more.

I think this shows that free books should at least be given a try. I certainly will be. If you want to take a look at other findings in the survey, you can find out more here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2015/12/SmashwordsEbookSurvey2015.html

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