Saving time with your website

I revamped my website a few months back, and I’ve been pleased with the new look. The main reason I decided to make the change was that the new site is WordPress based. Not only is WordPress the most-popular platform out there, I wanted to use certain plug-ins that aren’t available for non-Wordpress sites. Also, because the new site is WordPress based, I was able to integrate a history blog that I maintain. Previously, I could only offer a link on my website to the blog.

I found a writer who had put together a great template designed for writers. Check out her site here. She made the transitioning from my former website to the new one painless.

Her template also made creating a website store so easy. It was a pain to do on my old site, but the new template makes it a breeze. In fact, it makes maintaining the site a breeze.

When you are a one-man show, you want to be efficient and make the most of your time. This new template is one way I do that. Check out my new site here.

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The festival ripple effect

I’ve been increasing the number of book festivals and other festivals I’ve been taking part in for book signings. Some are very successful for me. Some I just barely break even at, and others, are complete flops.

The flops can be soul-crushing, but I have realized something as I’ve increased my appearances. The number of page views of my books and online sales increase after a festival, even a festival that’s been a failure. That doesn’t mean that I’ll go back to the flop festivals. However, it makes attending break-even festivals more attractive to continue attending.

Another benefit that I’ve found in attending these festivals is that I get leads and offers for speaking engagements. These speaking engagements are always successful. Even if I don’t get paid a stipend for speaking, I sell my books afterward.

The third benefit of these festivals is that I sometimes get leads for future story ideas.

On the flip side, festivals take up a lot of time and cost money to attend. This summer, I have a festival every other weekend, on average. The costs definitely add up as I do more festivals.

Overall, I think writers should definitely put themselves out there in the public and doing book signings at festivals where your potential readers attend. Just remember that sometimes the best festivals aren’t book festivals. You may find a craft or street fair that draws in many people who like your books.

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Selling direct to avoid bias

book-storesI enjoy watching videos on Youtube when I need a short break from my writing. The site offers something for everyone, but that may be changing. Some content creators have been talking about how Youtube is demonetizing their videos or changing the search algorithms so that their videos are only being seen by a fraction of the viewers their videos typically get. This is having a big effect on their bottom line.

What if that were to happen with the online bookstores? Amazon has banned some books from their sites while not applying that reason uniformly to the entire site.

This is the reason I have been trying to build my mailing list. It’s something that I wish I had done years ago. I don’t know who buys my books on Amazon, Kobo, or iBooks, so if those companies were to make a change that harms my sales, I wouldn’t be able to contact my readers to let them know about new releases. On the other hand, I can stay in contact with my mailing list readers to update them with news.

This works fine unless my book is one that an online bookseller doesn’t like and bans. In that instance, notifying readers that a new book is available won’t help me one bit if the book is not available. I need to sell my books directly from my website to combat this.

This means creating a store on my website. I already have this, and it allows me to sell physical books directly from my website. Readers can click on the book they want, pay via PayPal, and I ship the book out. The drawback is that I am involved more in the shipping and ordering process. The advantage is that I keep more of the purchase price, and I also have the buyer’s e-mail address for future contact.

I still haven’t created ebook files that I can sell directly from my website. I see this as trickier. One advantage of buying your ebook files from a particular retailer is ease. For instance, I have a Kindle. While it is easy for me to download my books to my Kindle reader and sync up my different devices, it is much more difficult to do if I buy a Kindle-compatible book. That inconvenience factor discourages sales from a different retailer other than the manufacturer of the ereader.

One reason I became an indie author was because I wanted to have more control over my books, such as deciding when to pull a particular book from sale. So why would I want to give that control to someone else and their biases and policies? I don’t.

I am an indie author, and I am working toward that goal. I don’t see that I will ever stop using other retailers to help sell my books, but being able to sell directly from my website is a protection for me and my work. It keeps me from allowing the distribution of my work to be in someone else’s control.

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Secrets of Successful Authors: Write more

Note: This will be the first post in a series that write from time to time that look into the habits of successful authors. While I make a living from my writing, I’m still far from where I want to be. My hope is that as I examine these habits, I’ll learn just as much as you.

Successful authors write… and continue to write.

The old saying is, “Writers write.” Well, successful authors write more.

Look at your favorite indie author who is selling well. I bet you’ll also find he or she has a strong backlist of titles and probably publishes more than a single title a year, which seems to be the standard among traditionally published authors.

This doesn’t mean that such writers are hack because they write fast. I remember as a teenager reading that my favorite author at the time, Louis L’Amour, used to write three books a year when he was an up-and-coming author.

The simple fact is that if you want to make a living writing, you need to have books for fans to buy. Once you have turned a reader into a fan, that fan is going to want to read more of what you write. You need to have additional titles to capitalize on that enthusiasm. If you have 100 fans and only one book, you can only sell 100 books, but if you have 10 books out, you can potentially sell 1000 books.

Author David Gaughran writes in Let’s Get Digital that having additional titles is more effective than many platform-building activities that authors do.

A deep backlist also helps with your marketing efforts. For instance, if you have one book out, it’s hard to run a free book promotion. However, if you write a trilogy, you can offer the first book at a deal to hook readers and have them purchase the other books at the regular price. Similarly, when I sell books at a festival, I offer a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” deal. It’s a deal that has significantly increased my sales, but I wouldn’t be able to offer it if I only had one or two titles out.

So once your current book is released, market it, but also start working on your next book.

This, of course, means you’ll need to spend more time writing. That is hard to do if you are also working a full-time job, but work to find the time.

It is a cumulative effect. The more books you get out, the greater your chances at seeing success. The more-successful you are, not only will you be more motivated to write, you will be earning more. This should help you cut back on other work.

Obviously, it will take time to build up your backlist so any extra time you can devote to your writing now will pay off down the line.

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Getting off on the right foot for 2019

new-years-resolutionsHappy 2019! It’s a New Year, so what are planning on doing with your writing? My writer’s group will talk about our writing resolutions this week, I thought I would share mine on my blog just to have them in writing. It will give me something to refer back to if I start to wander.

Books

I have five books that I would like to get out this year. One is already in layout so that will be no problem. One has the first draft complete. I am working hard to complete the first draft on another one, and two others have partial drafts.

I have a good start. Two of the books will definitely come out. The potential problem will be if I run into a snag trying to complete a decent first draft. It happens sometimes. The story just doesn’t come together on the page, and I get slowed down trying to fix the book, which pushes the projects that come after it behind.

Articles

I lost three of my newspaper columns last year. One newspaper was bought by a company that doesn’t want to use freelancers. Another newspaper got a new editor that decided not to continue the column and the third newspaper didn’t like that I became the editor of a magazine they consider the competition.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that newspaper columns don’t pay that well, so if I can replace that lost work with two decent paying magazine articles each month, it will more than make up the loss. That’s my goal.

Training

I have signed up for an online history writing course to improve my writing skills. This is a first for me. I listen to podcasts and read books, but this 10-week course will have assignments that I need to complete. I can’t coast along. I will need to focus and get the job done.

Marketing

I laid out a monthly marketing plan I wanted to try to implement this year. I will also sit down with an expert in websites and SEO marketing to try to improve my online platform.

Sales

It all comes down to selling more book. My goal is to increase my book sales by 20 percent and my ebook sales by 100 percent.

That may sound like a lot for ebook sales, but that is an area of my work I don’t feel I have tapped as well as I could.

So there you have it. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish this year with my writing. What are your goals?

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Unlikely opportunities can pay off

14079603_10210778257032758_954325199517999867_nWhen you are an author trying to spread the word about your books, sometimes you have to do things that you might not want to do simply because the opportunity presents itself. Those opportunities may pay off or not. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell, and sometimes, it pays off quite well.

I had such an opportunity that past weekend. I was scheduled to be at an event that was new for me. I had paid my booth fee months ago, but as the time for the event drew closer, the temperature in the area started getting unseasonably cold. Rain was also in the forecast.

This was an outdoor Christmas bazaar, so I was dreading it. I have had more than one event get rain this year and knew that it would kill the crowds. Unseasonably cold temperatures would do the same thing. I really dithered about going, but finally decided that I had made the commitment so I would go.

I’m glad I did. The temperature turned out not to be nearly as bad as I thought it would be, or maybe all the layers of clothing that I was wearing kept me warm. It did rain for a few hours, but it wasn’t it hard, drenching rain.

Most importantly, I sold books. I did better than average in total sales for a day-long festival, and when I calculated my hourly rate after expenses, it turned out to be my third best show over the past three years.

I did not see that coming.

I’m looking forward to the show next year with better weather (hopefully) to see what will happen.

My point is, as many parents will also attest, you have to try something (and usually more than once) to know whether you will like it or not.

As writers, we need to try different ways to market, keep what works, and ditch what doesn’t. What works for one person, may not work for you, but it’s certainly worth trying.

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What I want my signings to look like

37564145_1968752306492798_5403782325450309632_nI participated in a book signing this weekend that brought out hundreds of fans who wanted to get a signed book or a picture with the author. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to see me. Most of them came to see mega-bestselling author Nora Roberts. Also popular were New York Times bestselling authors Barbara Delinsky, Linda Howard, Julia London, and Kate Meader.

The location was in Robert’s bookstore, Turn the Page, in Boonsboro, Maryland. It is a nice local bookstore that fills two storefronts. Usually there is plenty of space to move around, but on this day, it was filled with so many people that you could barely move. I got caught on the opposite end of the store from where I needed to be, and it was easier to go outside and come in the back door.37633979_1968854289815933_3224202833523900416_n

I’m not complaining. I benefitted from the crowd and sold plenty of books myself. It also gave me a picture of what I wanted to shoot for. I want to fill bookstores with fans who enjoy my stories so much that they are willing to come out and wait for hours to spend a minute with me to get a picture and autograph.

It helped clarify that picture in my mind, so now I just need to keep writing until I reach that point.

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Springing forward

384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_nNow that spring is here, things are starting to pick up for me. I can look at my calendar and see more speaking events and weekend signings and festivals appearing. It seems odd that my first outdoor event for the year is in a couple weeks and we just had snow in Gettysburg yesterday (April 2)!

Here’s how the numbers increase:

  • March – 5 events
  • April – 8 events
  • May – 10 events

As my events increase, my free time begins to disappear. I still need to do the writing that I was doing earlier in the year, but now dozens of hours each week are being taken up by events. I don’t mind all of the activity because I can see the results with increased sales. It also gives me a break from my writing without feeling guilty that I’m not working. I just have to watch myself so I don’t burn out.

This is all part of an indie author’s marketing efforts. It takes a lot of effort to get your stories out there when you’re a one-person show.

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Hitting 2018 running

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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You need books to sell them

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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