LI Home   

David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants:

As a new author, if you hope to make a living from your writing, you recognize that you need to sell books. There are a number of methods to do that, but perhaps the best way to convince people to look at your wares is to get a "stamp of approval."

That stamp of approval often takes the form of writing awards or bestseller status.

People who see that a book has won awards are less likely to question the quality of the book, or your reputation as an artist. The assumption is that others liked the book well enough so that they chose to give it an award, above all of your competition. That's a powerful sales tool.

Perhaps even more powerful is popularity. A runaway bestseller is often a story that's gripping and fast-paced, one that has strong storytelling merits. Not only does that whet a reader's appetite, it also makes them curious. They wonder, "If ten million other people like it, is it really that good?"

Sometimes people even read books solely because they are popular. They want to make sure that when they stand around the water cooler and talk with friends, they have some kind of input on the novel in question. When that happens, as an author: Watch out! Book sales can rapidly move into the stratosphere!

Given this situation, it is in an author's best interests to publicize his or her books. You may do this by putting together a list of your awards or your bestseller status, and making sure that it's displayed on your web page. You will also have this kind of information handy when you're ready to be introduced at public speaking engagements, such as schools, book clubs, and libraries.

However, a problem creeps in. Nobody wants to appear boastful, yet as a writer you still have to promote your own work. After all, for most of us, trying to appear humble becomes self-defeating.

I know that when I list my awards on my web page, I only list some of them, fewer than a third. Similarly when I list my bestseller status, I only talk about a few of my bestsellers. If you start listing all of your awards, all of your bestsellers, it feels like overkill.

For example about twelve years ago, I set the Guinness World Record for the world's largest one-person, one book signing. For a long time, I didn't want to mention it on my resume or my web page. In fact, after a few years I actually forgot about it. It wasn't until Kevin J. Anderson said, "Dave, don't you hold the world's record for the largest book signing?" that I sheepishly said, "I don't know. I haven't checked lately." He said, "You know, you really ought to put that up on the bio on your web page. That's important." Okay, I put the darned thing on my bio.

A similar kind of thing happens with teaching. I've taught a lot of students who have gone on to become New York Times best-selling writers. Should I list them all on my web page? Well, to tell the truth, I'm conflicted about that. The list would be a bit too long. I've had a number of authors who've said, "Dave, you've probably trained more bestselling writers than anyone alive, haven't you?" To which I have to respond, "Maybe." Seriously, who can keep track of that kind of thing? I often hear from authors who get my Daily Kick who have signed lucrative contracts. Does an author who reads my advice column count the same as one who takes a writing workshop? Well, it doesn't matter much to me, so I don't advertise it.

So over the years, I've made it a habit to under-report such things, and in talking to other best-selling writers, I find that they do the same. After all, when you're talking to a group of kids, do they really want to waste five minutes hearing about all of your awards? Probably not.

But as your career grows, as you live and accumulate more honors, it becomes a growing problem, one that you yourself will have to deal with. In the interests of self-promotion, how much should I report, how much should I leave out?

I don't know. I've heard good arguments from some authors that you should report everything, that you should keep extensively lists. If the Hillsboro Reading Society votes your book number one for the year, put it up there.

I'd prefer not to.

In a perfect world, when you get introduced for a talk, the announcer will have researched your accolades to the point that they discover things about you that you didn't know about yourself. But the truth is that if you don't talk about these things in public, most people will assume that you haven't won any awards, that you haven't had any bestsellers, that you never created videogames or movies, or did anything else that might interest them.

So, as an author, be aware that you have some sort of responsibility to your spouse and family to talk about your successes, at least if you're the breadwinner in the family. You can't live a completely anonymous life.

And if you hear other authors crowing about their successes, recognize that in MOST cases, the author really is a humble person just like you who recognizes the need to promote his own work.


Reaching the turning point:

In the month of February, e-book sales grew nearly 170 percent above the sales in January. For the first time, e-book sales out-paced mass-market paperback sales, so that they now make up the majority of all sales categories. In other words, e-books sell more than paperbacks, and they also sell more than hardbacks.

That rise is dramatic and very precipitous. What's even more interesting is the drop in hardcover book sales—over 40% drop from the previous month. As a result, even bestselling authors like Jean Auel, who normally ships over a million copies in hardcover, has had her print run dropped dramatically to only 450,000 copies.

The rise in e-book sales is not making up for the drop in other sales in the U.S. market. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that the nation's third-largest retailer, Borders, isn't getting shipments from publishers. Hence, there are fewer books being shipped, and thus fewer sales.

But the second reason for a drop in overall sales might come from consumers themselves who are refusing to buy in anticipation of purchasing their own e-readers. In short, I have to admit, I've got a birthday coming up in May, and I'm a little hesitant to buy right now. I'm trying to figure out which e-reader to get for myself—an iPad 2, a Xoom? Hard to say. A lot of other people are also in that boat.

All of which brings me to the tipping point. At what point is it that authors say to themselves, "Why should I go the traditional publishing route, when the future of publishing is right in front of me?"

It's a very valid question, one that I have no easy answer to. Right now, I'm thinking that the tipping point is here. You might not decide on that until February of 2012. (Oh my gosh, could the Mayans have been predicting the end of the publishing world?)

Or maybe, like Amanda Hocking, you'll decide that we don't have to have that distinction. We can have books that sell all kinds of ways.

But let me throw something else at you. Recenlty some friends of mine have been examining royalty statements and finding that the e-sales seem ridiculously low. Be doing a bit of checking, it appears that some of the major publishers in New York are under-reporting their e-book sales by 90%. In other words, even if you do go to a New York publisher, the chances are good that they're stealing your money. Some of them are very up-front about it. Books that should be reverted to authors are being sold as e-books by some publishers—without any royalties even being reported. One major romance publisher is sending out letters telling authors that their out-of-print books are being entered into "an exciting new program. . ."

In such a world, authors really may have no choice but to walk away from the New York model.