Reblog: Does Social Media Sell Books? — Chuck Wendig

Yes! Of course! I mean, sure, probably. Long-standing publishing orthodoxy takes it as a given.

And, of course, I’m a writer with a blog. Based on my typical audience, chances are pretty good that you, reading this, are also a writer with a blog. We have some sunk costs. It’d be much easier to not ask this question. Because if the answer is anything other than an unqualified “Yes,” we might have to consider how well we’ve been spending our time.

Chuck Wendig asks the thorny question, and doesn’t shy away from the answers. And like so many things, the answers turn out to be complicated and nuanced.

Way back in THE OLDEN DAYS, in the BEFORETIMES, at the outset of this current wave of social media (Twitter, FB, IG, eventually not Tumblr, eventually yes Tik-Tok), it was a common refrain that an author had to have a “platform,” which was something of a corruption of the notion that non-fiction authors had to have a platform. For non-fic authors, that platform meant they had to have a reliable reputation in the subject matter at hand and/or some kind of demonstrable expertise in it. But the dilution of that became simply, “As an author, you should have a social media following at one or several social media sites.” (At this time, blogs were still acceptable. Remember blogs? Yeah, me neither.) It was a little bit advice, a little bit mandate. What that social media following meant or needed to look like was a set of teleporting bullseyes, and though I’m sure some publishers had hard and fast numbers they hoped to see, they did not share them with any authors I know.

The purpose of this social media following was unclear, though it was usually sold as some combination of, hey, be funny, be informative, earn an audience, oh and don’t forget to SHILL YOUR BOOKS, BOOKMONSTER. Drop the links, use the graphics, do the hokey-pokey and shake it all about. You’re an author! Also a brand! Standing on a platform! Asking an audience to love you with money! You’re like the Wendy’s Twitter account — be funny, be individual, be the best version of yourself, get attention, but also get them to eat your goddamn wordburgers.

The question is, did it work then? Does it work now?

Read the rest over at TerribleMinds…

Should We All Be Selling Fiction NFTs?

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve probably heard a bit about NFTs. The news outlets and crypto bros are all incredibly eager to tell us about just how much money this or that JPEG was recently sold for. The only thing more popular than gawking at these huge sales is writing blog posts trying to explain in layman’s terms what the heck an NFT is, or why the heck anyone would want to buy one.

As authors, it feels like we’ve been living in a technological revolution for a while now. We’ve seen a huge transformation of the publishing industry in the past decade or so. Traditional publishing and distribution channels shrank while self-publishing and online distribution became viable options. Could the recent rise of NFTs represent yet another way for authors to sell their work?

For as much talk as there has been around NFT visual art and the (ugh) “metaverse,” there is comparatively little discussion of monetizing the written word. Although the latest NFT craze has been around visual digital art, there’s no technical limitation stopping other types of art from being “NFT-ified.” An NFT itself is able to hold only a tiny amount of data, but the way NFTs are typically used is more as a glorified digital certificate of authenticity, and it can point to almost anything. So let’s take a look at what fiction NFTs might look like, and whether they seem likely to be a viable way for authors to sell their work.

Downsides

Publishing fiction and building an audience is already a challenge. Most of us aren’t looking to make it even harder, so it’s important to look at the downsides of using NFTs.

Minting Ain’t Free

NFTs use cryptocurrencies and blockchains as their bedrock (usually the Ethereum chain and its native currency, Ether). You’ll need a cryptocurrency wallet, and you’ll need some cryptocurrency in it. That means you’ll need to buy crypto with real money. You’ll need to pay gas fees. You’ll probably also need a browser extension or a wallet with built-in browser to interface with the exchange and set up your listing.

If that last paragraph sounded like technobabble to you, then you see the other cost: complexity. If you haven’t been involved with cryptocurrency and/or you’re not very computer savvy, getting all of this set up can feel like a pretty big undertaking. Plus, the world of crypto is full of hacks and scams (try looking up “rug pull” or “stolen NFT”), so jumping into it without a good understanding of what’s going on can be risky.

No Silver Bullet

Huge sales of NFTs have drawn big headlines because they make for exciting news, but anecdotes should not be confused with statistics. Like cryptocurrency, the NFT marketplace seems to be pretty volatile. It’s fueled by speculation, sentiment and hype.

A few people have tried to fight the hype with research, and what they’ve found is that most NFTs don’t sell for more than a hundred dollars (and that’s before fees). Most artists who jump in aren’t getting rich. It’s not even clear if the average artist breaks even. There are a few people selling for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, but is that really any different from Stephen King or E. L. James in the traditional publishing world?

Simply minting an NFT is no guarantee you’ll make money, and it’s certainly possible to lose some.

An Ideological Minefield

Cryptocurrency and NFTs aren’t exactly mainstream yet, but they’re getting more attention and press. And there are plenty of institutions and investors hyping them (often with holdings that stand to benefit from that hype). But there are plenty of others who are just as loudly pointing out the dangers: energy consumption, unstable and insecure technology, lack of regulation or oversight, and more.

In a world that is increasingly polarized, this is a natural ideological battleground—a tangled web of political beliefs, complicated technology, and economics. Having money at stake rarely makes people more objective.

It’s fair to say that announcing a venture into this arena will be met with excitement by the true believers, and scorn by the skeptics. Be ready to deal with that, and hope that the audience who gets excited is big enough to make it worthwhile.

Upsides

So far, NFTs don’t seem like a great deal. They’re certainly fraught with challenges. But there are some possible advantages too.

Novelty

NFTs have name recognition. They’re relatively new technology that’s attracting a lot of attention. And for those who are interested, they feel a bit like being involved in a sci-fi future.

If you’re the sort of person who likes experimenting with new, technology-infused forms of storytelling (like interactive fiction), then NFTs may be an exciting new playground. And the readers who are interested in new forms of storytelling may be more likely to jump the technical hurdles and be willing to support an NFT project.

This article from Lit Hub suggests that at least a few authors are making money by using NFTs to experiment with form and function, or at least provide a novel (heh heh) marketing twist for their writing projects.

Another Potential Income Stream

One of the oddities of NFTs, at least where digital art is concerned, is that they don’t actually provide legal or physical ownership of the thing they represent. They’re a digital note that can’t be easily forged, and point to the digital item of your choosing.

An NFT could be used as a way to sell the rights to a story or a novel, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be used more like autographed promotional materials or Patreon rewards: a bonus or collectable for invested fans. Minting an NFT of a story doesn’t mean the buyer owns any legal rights to that story, and you could still go on to publish it yourself.

Be aware, however, that blockchain information is inherently public. A typical NFT points to the item it represents at a URL that anyone can access. Since many publishers want “first” rights, minting an NFT of a piece of fiction may severely limit the rights that you can subsequently sell.

Conclusions

I’m personally pretty skeptical of NFTs and their cryptocurrency underpinnings, but it is a fact that it is now possible to mint NFTs for our art (or at least tangentially related to it). If nothing else, I think it’s always good to know what options are out there.

What do you think? Would you ever consider making NFTs of your fiction? Do you think there’s a market for it today? What about in five or ten years?

From the Blogroll: Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy

Aeryn Rudel is a sometimes-editor, sometimes-RPG-designer, and writer of stories. In fact, he is an unstoppable story writing machine.

On his Rejectomancy blog, he talks about various writing topics, but what I find most interesting is his thorough documentation of the sheer quantity of short stories and flash fiction he writes, along with his submission, acceptance, and rejection numbers.

There’s plenty of advice out there about writing and submitting short stories to publications, but I haven’t found another person who is so thorough in documenting their own personal experience. He really embodies the idea that writers should embrace rejection as a natural part of the publishing process and build up a thick skin.

Earlier this month, he compiled some interesting information and advice to commemorate his 500th rejection, a feat that took him almost ten years of submissions.

Check it out over at Aeryn Rudel’s Rejectomancy.

How to Get a Book Cover

I’ve done my outlining and prep for Razor Mountain. I wrote my author profile and my book description. I’ve got a couple of chapters in revision, just about ready to go. But I don’t have a book cover.

Why Yes, I Am an Old Man

I grew up in a time where traditional publishing was effectively the only publishing. Self-publishing was basically a scam where unpleasant little corporations tricked authors into spending a bunch of money to print a tiny run of their book that would be available nowhere and bought by nobody.

In that strange and distant age, there was an oft-quoted adage: “In real publishing, money always flows toward the author.” If you’re in traditional publishing, that’s still generally true, but we now live in a world where self-publishing is definitely real publishing and a viable strategy for many authors. But self-publishing means that the author is taking on all of the tasks that were once managed by a publisher, and taking on all the risk that entails. In self-publishing, money doesn’t always flow toward the author. In many cases, you have to spend money to (try to) make money. For me, at least, that takes some getting used to.

Those costs can include a variety of things: copy editors, content editors, proofreaders and sensitivity readers; indexing; book design and formatting; marketing; and cover design. The folks at Reedsy have a good post on how these costs can add up, although they should be taken with a grain of salt since they make their money as a marketplace for exactly these kinds of services.

As an old man who still thinks traditional publishing is pretty cool, I ended up accidentally backing into self-pub in the form of an experiment. I wanted to write a serial novel, putting it out into the world as I wrote it (more or less). There are only a handful of authors that could get a traditional publisher to sign on to a project like that, and let me tell you, I am not one of them. Publishing a serial novel has its own unusual considerations, but at the end of the day, it’s self-publishing, and it involves many of the same considerations that self-publishing any other novel would.

If you’re looking at self-publishing and you need a book cover, what are your options?

DIY

You can do it yourself. But should you?

The obvious advantage of this strategy is that it costs no money, and you have complete control of your cover design. The disadvantage is that it will cost your time, possibly materials, and the quality of the output is going to depend entirely on your skill. If you are a visual artist, this might be feasible for you. Just remember, book covers are a specialized art. Even if you are great at painting, drawing or visual design, it won’t necessarily be easy to create a great book cover.

Before you embark on crafting a book cover, look around for good reference material. Browse Amazon or Bookshop, or go to your local independent bookstore and snap photos of covers you like. Consider your book’s genre and the feel you want the cover to have — thrillers are going to have very different covers from romance or memoir, for example.

There are also services that help to make the process easier. For example, Canva has a book cover design template, along with a variety of pre-built cover designs, free and paid. You can change any of the elements to suit your own needs, from fonts to colors to pictures or illustrations. If you need pictures, you can try searching a free stock photo site, like Pexels. These sites have photos that you can use without paying royalties. Don’t use any pictures without a clear statement of copyright and conditions of use!

If you have experience or are willing to put in the time to learn, professional design software can give you even more creative control. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are industry-standard tools that require a purchase, or you could use a free tool like the powerful (and goofily-named) GNU Image Manipulation Program — GIMP.

Canva book cover templates

Friends, Family, and Freelance

For most of us, it’s just not feasible to create our own book cover with a high-enough level of quality. However, you might know someone with the artistic skills you lack. Do you have an artist friend, family member, or coworker whose work you respect? Consider offering them a commission. For the amateur artist, it may be fun to work on a project that actually pays, and it’ll be far less expensive for you than other options.

Be aware though, that you’re going to have to collaborate. You don’t want to end up poisoning an existing relationship if you end up disagreeing on the design. Treat this as a professional relationship — make sure to be really clear about what you want, how much you are paying, and how much freedom you’re giving your artist to adjust and improve the design based on their own artistic sensibilities.

And yes, you should almost always pay. Even if your artist is a friend or family member, they’re doing a professional service for you. You’re trying to make money by publishing — it would be a disservice to your artist to not compensate them for their contribution to your success. Look at freelancer and professional rates, and make sure you’re offering a reasonable fee that you both can agree on. (Occasionally, you may have a hard time convincing your artist to accept compensation. Consider something more personal than cold cash — take them out for a nice meal, or give them a gift you know they’ll appreciate.)

Professionals

This is a broad category, but I’m considering this to cover any artist you do not personally know, who gets paid for their art in any way. This includes amateurs who take commissions, professional freelancers, and commercial services.

If you want to find a freelancer, you can browse sites like Reedsy or Fiverr for artists who are specifically advertising their book cover design services. These are the folks who are mostly likely to have experience in this specific field of design, and some examples for you to look at.

If you have favorite artists on an art site like DeviantArt, you might consider asking them if they’ll create a cover for you on commission. Just be aware that many excellent artists will have never created a cover before, and may not be interested. Even if they are, you’ll want to have a detailed description of what you want.

Finally, there are the corporate options. These are companies who employ professional artists who specialize in book covers. This can be the priciest choice, with some cover options costing upward of a thousand dollars.

On the cheaper end of these services are pre-made book covers. These are somewhat like the Canva templates: professionally-designed covers that can be customized with title and byline. Some services will let you specify minor tweaks to things like the font and sizing of the text, but these are mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

If you’re willing to pay for the most expensive options, you can buy a custom book cover design from one of these services. You provide your input to the company, and they come back with one or more designs. You then pick what you like and make adjustments until it’s just right. This is the most expensive kind of cover design service, but you’re paying for strong creative control and high-quality art and design to get a professional product.

When Ryan Lanz, whose blog I follow, posted his cover reveal, he shouted-out his designers, Damonza, who offer pre-made and custom-order covers. There are at least half a dozen other companies who do similar work that are easy to find with a Google search. I won’t recommend any of these, since I haven’t worked with them and can’t vouch for the quality of service. However, they all have galleries of their work that you can browse to help you make a decision.

Making the Right Choice

Many writers, myself included, want to spend as much time as possible refining their craft — writing! But if you’re going to self-publish, there are business considerations, and you have to take them seriously if you want to maximize your chances of success. As often as we say “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” people do exactly that.

Remember that a book cover is a business decision. You have to decide how important your cover is, and how much time and money you want to put into it. You also need to consider the resources available to you. Maybe you can’t afford a custom professionally-designed cover, but you have an artist friend who is eager to help. Maybe you can sock away a smaller amount of money for a commission or freelancer. Maybe you’re an artist as well as a writer, and you’re willing to put in the effort to make something great in Canva, Illustrator or GIMP.

How about you? Have you self-published? If so, how did you get your book cover? Were you satisfied, or would you try something different next time? Let me know in the comments.

Shea Serrano and the Perfect Mailing List

Shea Serrano is a journalist who has written for all kinds of publications. He has written a lot of things — most of which I haven’t read yet — but I assume it’s all stellar. He writes articles, he does podcasts, all great, I’m sure. He writes about hip-hop and basketball and movies and TV, and it’s clear from everything he puts out that he does it because those are the things he loves.

The way I discovered him was through his little e-book about the TV show, Scrubs. It’s sold as a collection of essays, but it’s really just an extended love letter to a great show.

Anyway, Shea Serrano is one of my favorite people to get email from.

Now you can go searching online and find lots of advice about how to set up an author newsletter or mailing list or SubStack. How you can connect with people and grow your audience. All that smarmy business stuff about growing your brand.

Really, I think all you need to do is be like Shea Serrano. Every couple of weeks, he sends out an email to his list. Each one is just a short story, probably only a few hundred words, about something funny or weird that happened in his life. Things like his kids insulting each other at the breakfast table, and then proceeding to roast him with devastating insults that don’t really make sense.

At the very end of the email is a link with mildly insulting text that takes you to the page where you can buy his latest work. The most recent one sends you to pre-order his upcoming book, and says “If You Don’t Click This Box And Preorder The New Book I’ll Really Fucking Fight You.”

That’s it. It’s fun and a little bit ridiculous, just like his books. It’s a little gift in my inbox, with a zero-pressure note that points me toward something I could buy, if I feel like it. And honestly, the next time he writes something that aligns with my interests, I’m going to click that insulting button and feel great about it.

I think the best kind of marketing gives people something they want, and then does the absolute minimum to make them aware of what you’re selling. If they like you, and you bring them joy, they’re going to be happy to throw some money your way.

(If you want to subscribe to Shea, click this and then click “Follow.”)

How to Write an Author Bio

As I get close to launching Razor Mountain, there are a few side tasks to take care of. Last week, I delved into the process of writing a book description, and then wrote one for Razor Mountain. This week, I’m working on my author bio.

I’ve already spent some time on this here and there, because a bio is required pretty much everywhere you might want to publicly be an author. My blog has a bio. Twitter has a bio. However, a book bio is just one more little tool that you can use to get potential readers interested. Now is as good a time as any to really polish it up and make sure I’m putting my best foot forward.

What’s in a Bio?

If you’ve read author bios before, you probably already intuitively know a few things about them. They have to be short, they are always written in third-person, and good ones give the reader some small insight into the author.

If you search the internet, you’ll find dozens of articles about writing an author bio, and they’re all mostly variations on these themes. For my money, a couple good ones are:

As with book descriptions, you don’t want to get bogged down with a list of rules or requirements. Author bios can vary quite a bit, and part of the charm of a good one is that it reflects your personality.

“Short” here means about 50-100 words. Much like the book blurb, this is a tool to get the reader interested, and attention spans are limited. The third-person perspective is long-held convention, perhaps because it feels less weird to imagine someone telling you about the author, than to imagine the author describing themselves to you like this.

Building Credibility

If you have achievements, awards, bestseller listings, or any of the other things the kids like to call “street cred,” the bio is a great place to list them. Just know that the average reader is going to start skimming if you list more than one or two.

For non-fiction, you want to establish your credentials in a field related to the subject of your book. If it’s about history, being a history prof is great. If it’s a cook book, you should probably be a cook of some sort.

Non-fiction writers have it easy. For fiction, credibility is a little more nebulous. You might luck-out and be able to establish a link between your experience and the content of the book. The fact that I’m a professional software developer might grant me some cred for a book about hackers. A background as a physicist might be relevant if you’re writing about time travel or spaceflight.

If that doesn’t work, you might want to focus on the particular perspective you bring to the work. It’s time for some soul-searching. What are you interested in, and why? What drives you to write? What do you think a reader will appreciate about you or your work?

These can all be difficult questions to answer, looking at yourself from the inside out. If you have trusted beta readers, critiquers, or family and friends who are familiar with your work (and able to be honest), it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they think.

Finishing it Off

Finally, once you’ve got all the difficult bits sorted out, you’ll probably want to add a link to website, social media, or other ways that fans can virtually stalk you. While a good bio can sometimes help sell the book, it’s also the easiest way to point excited readers to more of your stuff when they finish reading.

It’s also worth noting that we live in a digital world. You can’t rewrite the bio or blurb on a published book unless you get a fresh print run or new edition. When it comes to self-publishing, print-on-demand, e-books and other digital avenues, it can be much easier to change and tweak these things. Just don’t get stuck in a loop of constantly updating and second-guessing yourself. You can always update that bio when your next project is done.

Next Time

Later this week, I’ll work on updating my author bio for Razor Mountain. See you then.

Aside

Thing Number Zero: Write the Book

I came across this article recently, A Pre-Launch Playbook for Debut Authors, and I couldn’t help but laugh. A mere fifty-six things you need to do before launching a debut novel. Social media, website, bookstagrammers, goodreads, bookbub, newsletters, travel and networking, interviews. A YouTube channel.

As if it wasn’t exhausting enough writing a good book, this is what the business side of writing is like nowadays. God help you if you’re not independently wealthy and have to have a non-writing job. You can sleep when you’re dead, right?

I do like the idea of dropping a few copies of your book in local Little Free Libraries though.