Archive for the 'marketing' Category

From Stet, the newsletter of the Independent Writers of Chicago

July Meeting Reprise
There wasn’t an empty seat in the room as two-time IWOC past president Jim Kepler told a rapt audience how we could take material we might have already written, put it together in book form, publish it, and then use the book to promote ourselves for other jobs. He had a solution for those who don’t have enough related clips too. It started with “Take a box…” (or a virtual box, i.e., a computer folder). From there he gave us step-by-step instructions on how to compile materials on our topic of interest, how to define our chapters and our focus, and so on. Kepler also had a myriad of tips for shameless promotion using our newly minted book. Hint: if you’ve never written a press release, now would be a good time to start. He advised starting small by sending press releases to local civic and social organizations and offering to be a speaker. From there, you can parlay the little fish into bigger fish. To find out more about this excellent presentation, you can download or read the detailed handout on the members-only landing page.

[Not an IWOC member? Click on, add a note under “Comments,” and I’ll send you the article and handouts. JK]

Writing a book? Start at the end.

People occasionally tell me they’re writing a book. When I ask them what it’s about, more often than not they begin by telling me it’s totally different from anything ever before written about their subject—a truly unique approach. And then they launch into a long-winded, rambling description that tells me they haven’t yet figured out the most important aspect of the book: FOCUS.

Leaving aside the possibility that their book might, indeed, be a radically new take on their theme, their inability to state a succinct premise means they’re going to have a hard time writing it and a harder time selling it to an agent or publisher. They’re too caught up in telling me what they want to write instead of focusing on what a reader might want to read.

I don’t mean to imply that every author must be so market driven that he or she can be successful only by pandering to the buying public. Authors should not lose sight of the integrity of their work and the importance of their point of view. But if they want their book to be read—and isn’t that the reason for writing it in the first place?—they need to consider what will make their audience want to read it.

If you’re a budding author, here’s a suggestion that might help you get your book into the hands of your target reader: Write the blurb first.

What’s blurb copy? That’s the text you’ll find on the inside flap of a hard cover dust jacket or the back cover of a paperback book. It tells briefly what the book is about; it’s the pitch that is intended to sell the book. Blurb copy is an important element in the purchase process.

A customer entering a bookstore first looks around the store for orientation to decide where to begin browsing. Once he or she gets to the section where your book is shelved, the customer scans the selection looking for an eye catcher. Some of the books will be face out on a shelf; most will be spine out. For books face out, an attractively designed front cover will grab the browser’s attention. If the customer cocks his or her head to the right and reads the array of titles shelved spine out, he or she is most likely to pause at the quirkiest or most descriptive or most boldly legible titles. Book designers who concentrate all their efforts on the front cover and add spine copy almost as an afterthought do their authors a disservice. With the thousands of titles that even a small bookstore stocks, it’s not possible to display every book face out; the spine has to help make the sale.

The purpose of a book cover is to encourage a browser to want to pick up the book. The design may be words alone or an illustration—photograph or drawing—that relates to and compliments the subject of the book. The title and subtitle should pique the customer’s interest.

What does a customer do after taking a book from a bookstore shelf? Most browsers will turn the book (paperback) over or open the cover (hard cover) to read the jacket blurb. Imagine you’re that browsing customer. Ask yourself what would interest you enough to want to actually leaf through the pages and read a couple of sentences. That’s what you as an author should put in your blurb. That’s the focus, the appeal, the pitch that will help sell your book. With luck the customer will go on to check the table of contents, perhaps read a page or two, and then decide to take the book to the cashier.

*   *   *

It’s unlikely that the blurb you write now for the book you’re planning will ever actually be used. But you should still do it because

1. It will help you make a sales pitch to an agent or editor.
2. It will help you focus on target readers who will want to buy your book.
3. It will help you stay focused as you develop your book. Tack it up above your computer.
4. It will help the marketing and publicity departments work out a sales plan.
5. It will help you create sound bites to use during promotion appearances and interviews.
6. It will give you a quick answer to the question: What’s your book about?

Unless you self-publish, in the end a new blurb will probably be written by someone in the publisher’s marketing department. Also the artwork you originally foresaw anchoring the front cover illustration and the title you’ve been using since the book’s inception will undoubtedly be changed for marketing and promotion reasons.

None of your first blurb-writing attempts is wasted, however, because each step you complete on your way to a finished manuscript is an important component of your book as a final package, a focused package that will have maximum appeal to many book buyers.

It all starts with your blurb. JK

“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!”

“It’s a game of Whac-a-Mole,” said Russell Davis, an author and president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a trade association that helps authors pursue digital pirates. “You knock one down and five more spring up.”

This time the game has to do with copyright violations and the posting of books on the Internet without permission from their authors or publishers. And there’s not much point in calling Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson in on the case because there’s little likelihood the thieves will be caught. It costs too much time and effort to pursue them, and as author Steven King sees it, “The question is, how much time and energy do I want to spend chasing these guys . . . [a]nd to what end? My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions [sic] and discount beer.”

Literary pirates see books that have been published in PDF versions or digitalized for Kindle or Sony Reader downloading as easy prey. One publisher alone, John Wiley & Sons, claims to have sent take-down notices to more than 5,000 violators during the past month, a figure that’s up more than five times from a year ago. Wiley now has three full-time staff persons whose job is to track offenders.

Mokoto Rich, writing in the New York Times, says, “Sites like Scribd and Wattpad, which invite users to upload documents like college theses and self-published novels, have been the target of industry grumbling in recent weeks, as illegal reproductions of popular titles have turned up on them.”

Digitalizing books, then, seems to be a double-edged sword: Yes, it may make the book more widely available, but there’s also the risk that the book could be illegally picked up, entirely or in part, and displayed on a site that does not compensate either the author or the publisher. What do you think? Digitalize or not? JK


How’s this for a book title: Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments Are Scamming Us … and What to Do About It.

Really makes you want to curl up on a rainy afternoon and dive right in, doesn’t it?

Author Dick Morris—or more likely some marketing genius at HarperCollins—burdened his book with this10-line, 205-word winner.

David Baker, writing in MediaPost’s blog email|INSIDER says, “The average consumer spends less than three seconds scanning titles of books on a bookshelf in the store, and then spends roughly 20 seconds scanning the contents before making a decision to either purchase or sit down with the book to research further. We have turned into a culture of top 10 lists and recommendations.

“It’s not surprising that publishers recommend book titles that are three words or less. Much of the focus of book marketing today is on the design of the cover, the author’s bio and leveraging recommendations.” JK

Subsidiary rights

Your book may enjoy a life well beyond that of conventional bookstore sales or of being merely pages bound into a paperback or hard bound cover. In general—and there are very specific legal definitions—subsequent permission to publish and market a work to a specific buying public or in a format other than its original book form can loosely be termed a subsidiary right. And such a right is a commodity that can be sold, giving your book greater income producing potential beyond its initial publication.

Other formats can include movie, TV, and now Web adaptations; translations; audio or video recordings; book club editions; merchandise tie-ins; premium offers; and, of course, ebooks. You can find more information at the Publishing Law Center Web site.

I once ghostwrote a book titled Fire! Survival and Prevention, which the publisher, Barnes & Noble Books division of Harper & Row, sold to manufacturers of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to give away to purchasers of their products. To our (mine and the publisher’s) surprise, the book was also picked up both by Doubleday and Literary Guild Book Clubs for use as a pro bono premium to their subscribers.

Lucy Shaker’s book Looking Back, Looking Ahead: A History of American Medical Education, one of our Adams Press books, generated interest both from a medical college and an insurance company as a premium gift. Another Adams Press book, Kathryn Clarke’s novel The Breakable Vow, is the foundation for a multimedia presentation that includes the book itself, an instructor’s manual, audio tapes, CD, workbook, and a facilitator-led presentation that is marketed to state attorneys general, law enforcement agencies, and mental health professionals for use in workshops focused on dating and domestic violence. After selling 12,000 copies herself, the author of that self-published work sold her book to a traditional royalty publisher.

You can probably think of many, many tie-ins based upon books. Some titles have become entire industries all by themselves: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; Steven R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People; and the books and book-related products of Martha Stewart, Wayne Dyer, Suzanne Summers, Deepak Chopra,  and countless others.

Very often the opposite happens, and books are commissioned by organizations and individuals who have already achieved success in their own field and want a book to add to their product line. ComPsych, for example,  is the world’s largest provider of comprehensive employee assistance programs. Adams Press publishes books for them to offer as resources to their client companies, books that are not available to the general public; so far we have written, designed, and printed Paving the Way to a Smooth Relocation, Living the Healthy Life, Charting the Course to College, and Solving your Day Care Dilemma—with more on the way. The Adams Press logo appears nowhere on the books; ComPsych is the publisher.

Similarly, we produced Charles Remsberg’s new book titled Blood Lessons: What Cops Learn from Life-or-Death Encounters for Calibre Press, whose books are among the product lines sold through the PoliceOne Web site. JK

Are you a writer? Really?

Wondering what to do while you’re waiting to sell your first million books?


Write to build credentials, confidence, and prestige.

Write for practice. Write for experience. Write for money.

Think of yourself as a writer. Tell people you’re a writer. BE a writer!

When asked, or when you find the opportunity to slip it into a conversation, describe yourself as a writer—but not a freelance writer. If you think you need to add a qualifier, say you’re an independent writer or an essayist or a novelist or an author. Why? The perception of freelance writers often is that they’re out of work and trying to make some money until they can land a full-time job. They get the same respect as someone who says he or she is working as a temp. You know, and I know, that temps generally work just as hard—sometimes harder—as their coworkers who are “on staff.” But that dismissive attitude is always there: Why doesn’t he or she have a real job? The same applies to freelance writers. Which is not to say you can’t be employed in a related or totally different field and still be a writer. A lot of successful writers (and painters, musicians, and other creative types) have done just that.

Independent writers are viewed as professionals who take their work seriously; it’s how they earn their living as self-employed contractors. Many independent writers (or illustrators or actors) earn some or most of their income doing something else while devoting as much time as they can to their creative endeavor. The impression you should strive to project, though, whether you’re writing full time of part time, is that this is your business; this is what you do. You are a writer.

Improve your skills
There’s no question: The more you write, the more comfortable and capable you’ll become with your craft. Good (and marketable) writing is both an art and a skill—an art insofar as invention and creative expression are concerned. Many of your skills as a writer can be learned, however, and are not necessarily wholly dependent upon actually possessing a great artistic talent. You can learn structure, syntax, and diction. You can learn grammar and how to produce a workmanlike product. Sure, I’m assuming here that you have at least a modicum of native ability and a proven capacity to use words to convey abstract ideas. After all, you certainly wouldn’t undertake to do any serious writing if you didn’t have at least some measure of facility with words and a good foundation in the mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and usage. Lacking those abilities, you’d undoubtedly be happier and better suited to following a different path.

Although practice doesn’t always make perfect, it does help improve both your skills and your marketability. The better writer you become, the more likely you are to gain the respect of your readers, and the sooner you can begin earning some (more) income from your work. Exactly how much might there be to be earned? A lot depends upon the type of writing you choose to do. Poetry, essays, and short stories? Very little. Journalism? A bit more. Business writing, such as newsletters and brochures? Still more. Web support and technical content? You’re moving up. High-end advertising, on-air scripting, speech writing? A very comfortable income.

Corporate clients usually pay more than not-for-profit organizations. If you can consistently turn out winning grant proposals, whether for commercial corporations of nonprofit institutions, you’ll never go hungry. If making your mark in a particular discipline is your highest priority, choose to woo clients who not only can use your services but who can also direct you toward others, especially respected leaders, in the field. If earning maximum dollars is where you want to concentrate your efforts, join and use influential professional societies, build relationships with key decision makers, maximize opportunities, and brush up on etiquette and self-presentation. JK

How much do writers earn?

There are differing levels of compensation for writers depending upon the type of work they do. Although a number of factors tend to define a writer’s income—type of industry/client, geography, economic climate, among many—it is possible to apply some generalizations. For example, a good, high level speech writer usually can expect to earn more than a commercial script writer. Similarly, script writing pays more than copy writing . . .

which pays more than technical (computer-based or related) writing . . .

which pays more than instructional (staff training) writing . . .

which pays more than public relations . . .

which pays more than magazine writing . . .

which pays more than book editing . . .

which pays more than newspaper writing . . .

which pays more than copy editing . . .

which pays more than proofreading . . .

which pays more than even the pittance that some clients are willing to part with. I once had a potential client (it didn’t work out) tell me, “You know, I’d ask my wife to do this job. She’s an excellent writer. She used to teach third grade.”

Many public and private service organizations pay competitive rates, but be wary of agencies that tell you, “We can’t afford to pay very much because we’re not-for-profit. ” Just because they’re not-for-profit doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be as well. Choose your charities and “good works” carefully. Is the organization paying standard rates for other services and commodities while expecting their creative suppliers—writers and artists—to make unreasonable sacrifices?

A good friend and a seasoned writer was confronted with this not-for-profit argument while being interviewed by a person looking for assignment writing help and help to work on brochures, annual reports, and other general assignments. Always cool in such situations, my friend looked around the client’s well appointed Chicago Loop high-rise office and began offering compliments about the agency’s location and tasteful furnishings. “So,” said she, “I’m sure the office building manager, phone company, and electric company all give you substantial discounts because you’re not-for-profit, right?”

“Oh, no,” said the client. “We would never expect that to happen.”

“But you do expect me to discount my writing services because, as you say, you’re not-for-profit. Perhaps you can explain that contradiction to me.”

She decided not to accept what the client described as a “prestigious assignment.”

Successful writer-client relationships are built upon mutual respect and trust. JK

As an independent writer, how much should you charge?

In order to make your writing as an independent contractor equal your income as a full-time employee, apply the following formula to your current salary:

Salary + benefits + expenses divided by your hours worked/week = earnings per hour.

Then add at least 50 percent to your current salary to cover the cost of your doing business when you begin working as your own boss. This includes mortgage or rent payments (here’s the tool to see the numbers – to maintain your home and place of business; utilities; telephone, fax, online and other electronic connections and maintenance; equipment and supplies; postage/UPS/FedEx/messenger services; transportation; subscriptions, memberships, and training; and whatever else may be required to enable you to function professionally.

Once you are no longer on your employer’s payroll, you will have no insurance coverage, sick leave, paid vacation, retirement, or any of the other benefits that you may now enjoy. You will need to replace them, and the way to do so is by factoring their costs into your fee.

If you are currently working a 40-hour week to earn a salary of $36,000 a year, your formula will look like this:

$54,000/year ($36,000 + $18,000) or $1,038/week divided by 40 hours = $26/hour.

A salary of $50,000 per year translates to $36/hr; $75,000 a year equals $54/hour.

Of course, you cannot bill 40 hours of your work each week–you’ll be lucky to bill half that many (see below); full-time writers usually bill around 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year. Therefore, in order for your independent writing income just to equal, not exceed, your current full-time salary, you must double the above hourly rate, and roughly $50 to $100 per hour becomes the absolute minimum you can charge. Anything less means decreasing your standard of living.

Here’s the tricky part: Tell a client that you charge $75 dollars an hour, and right away he or she will mentally multiply that amount by 40 hours in a work week and get $3,000. (People can’t help themselves; it’s a reflex.) Then your potential client will multiple that $3,000 by 50 work weeks in a year and get $150,000, which may be more than the boss is earning. “Wow!” the client thinks, “I can’t hire someone for more than Charlie makes. He’ll have my hide.” And you’ve lost the job.

TIP: Don’t reveal your hourly rate; roll it into the overall cost of the project. Figure your time by the hour and charge by the project. Renegotiate if necessary (see below).

You can bill only about half the time you spend “at work” each week because the rest of your time will be spent

*marketing your business (no one else will do it for you)

*improving and updating your skills (you’ll be your own training department)

*researching current and potential clients (vetting will be solely your responsibility)

*making copies (you’ll become your own support staff)

*going to the post office (support)

*maintaining your computer and other equipment (support)

*shopping for supplies (support)

*keeping your books and records (you must become, or hire, your own  bookkeeper)

*invoicing and collecting from your clients (support)

*worrying about where your next assignment will come from (it’s lonely at the top).

Two final points: When estimating a project fee, don’t forget to factor in research, rewrites, meetings, and travel time and expenses. As a writer you’re selling your talent, skill, experience…and your time.

If your client balks at your price, don’t reflexively lower it to get the job. If you immediately lower your fee, the client will assume you were charging too much in the first place and will lose confidence in you. Instead, offer a compromise: longer deadline; fewer deliverables (suggest the client provide research or proofreading); bartered product or service in return for writing. JK

It’s all Greek—or Swedish or Swahili—to me

Have you ever considered that your book might find an audience in a country where English is not the first language? As comedian Judy Tenuta says: “It could happen!”

Although there’s generally little market for fiction in translation, nonfiction, such as location-specific history or biography; metric-measure cookbooks; business practices; or culturally acceptable how-to books, might find readers abroad.

Some time ago Adams Press published Japan’s Road to Popular Empowerment, a collection of Japanese newspaper articles, translated into English, that were written by Celine [Shinbutsu] Nisaragi, an American woman who has lived in Japan for more than thirty years and is fluent in the language. Her original thought was that her book would be helpful to Americans trying to understand Japanese society, particularly its politics. To her surprise it turned out her best market was Japanese students trying to learn vernacular English before traveling to the United States. Translations are like that: They often find unintended audiences.

For an interesting article about American publishers on the lookout for foreign-language books with American market potential, click here.

Note: Your book written in English may already have a much broader market than the United States alone. The English-speaking world—and English language book buyers—now includes British Commonwealth countries, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; Ireland; much of Scandinavia, Germany, and Austria; India and Pakistan; Hong Kong and western China; Israel and much of the Middle East; large portions of Africa; and just about any good-sized university city anywhere in the world. JK

Make your book work for you

Publishing a book can produce direct and indirect income for the author. Direct income results from sales of the book itself: retail sales; course adoptions; subsidiary rights (book clubs; movie, television, stage, and audio adaptations; serializations; premiums; translations; large type books; international reprints); as well as from back-of-the-room sales at in-person presentations.

Indirect income might come from the increased business that the writing of a book produces. This is what I have done on occasion when I have pitched my services as a writer to a potential client: After the meeting’s opening pleasantries and a brief discussion with the client about what the assignment entails, I have reached into my bag and pulled out a book that I wrote and laid it before the client.

Human nature is such that the client will inevitably pick up the book and begin leafing through it. That’s when I mention a few characteristics about the book––its content, the circumstances that led to its creation, any recognitions it has received––and then I allow a few moments for questions or comments (usually complimentary–again, human nature) before leading the conversation back to the client’s need. I limit this presentation to only a couple of minutes of the client’s time. I have nearly always received the assignment. That book has power!

A published book equates with believability, trust, and confidence. If you’ve written a book, the perception, if not the reality, is that you are an expert––perhaps the expert––in your field. At the point when you place your book in your client’s hands, you’re no longer selling your services. Your book sells you.

The same phenomenon attaches to books sent to a physician’s patients or the clients of an attorney, accountant, financial adviser, engineer, or any other professional. Customers of salespersons, regardless of what they’re selling, are especially impressed to learn their representative has written a book.

Corporate or association histories are worth their weight in gold. They can be enormously effective in building goodwill and introducing, renewing, and cementing relations with customers, donors and members.

Public speakers earn extra points for credibility and helpfulness when they have a book to offer their audience following presentations. Attendees like to have an authoritative book to take away with them after a program. Even a slim volume can enhance the reputation of a speaker or trainer and lead to invitations for more appearances or workshops. JK

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