Alas, whenever I blog about marketing or sales, inevitably a commenter or five mentions author newsletters. How other authors swear by them and so why oh why do I hate them?
First of all, I don’t hate newsletters. Correction. I don’t hate ALL newsletters. More on that in a bit.
Newsletters are a tool, and tools are neither good or bad. Should you want to cut down a dead tree, chainsaws are awesome. Want to settle a dispute with that coworker who keeps stealing your lunch from the company fridge? Chainsaws are BAD…and HR is far scarier anyway.
Before we get into pros and cons, dos and don’ts, think long and hard about why you’re considering a newsletter at all.
How we publish is a business decision only we can make. Newsletters are the same. Like all other business decisions, newsletters require forethought and honesty.
Just like we shouldn’t rush out to self-publish because a member of our writing group is suddenly bathing in crisp Benjamins, we shouldn’t dive into creating a newsletter simply because another author swears they sell books faster than a donut shop across from a police station.
We only have 24 hours in a day. Time is a nonrenewable resource, which means we’re wise to use the time we have effectively. For writers, our priority is to dedicate time to writing books. The more books, the better. This said, the ways we then cultivate a fan base—actual humans who will BUY those books—should be selected with care.
Most authors will still have to work a day job, care for family, needy pets and also build a social media platform. A successful newsletter requires one critical factor to make it anything other than one more reason to take up heavy drinking.
What’s that factor?
In my last post, I also talked about the trust gap. Too many businesses (and writers) want to skip building relationships and get right to selling. The problem is that, in the 21st century marketplace, relationships ARE our business. People buy from who they KNOW and who they LIKE.
We’re in an age of unprecedented abundance and choice, and most consumers are overwhelmed. This means the consumers’ comfort zone contracts at twelve times the rate the number of choices expands.
Don’t argue, it’s ‘science.’
For instance, when faced with seventy-five different pasta sauces at the nearby Central Market, my brain vapor locks. Though I could have chosen the organic, non GMO, vegan, cruelty-free marinara made with only free-range heirloom tomatoes, I grab a jar of whatever I bought last time.
And make a mental note to google what the heck an ‘heirloom tomato’ actually is, aside from pretentious and ‘meta.’
Pasta sauce companies hire smiling people in hairnets to hand out samples in order to bridge the trust gap. They KNOW there’s a ton of competition and that, unless they want to compete on price, they’re going to have to make the first move to connect with US.
Also, that connection is going to COST them…because charging for free samples defeats the purpose of a free sample.
One taste of a free-range heirloom tomato might be all I need to forgo Ragu forever, making Meta Sauce my new go-to when I fall off—then under the wheels of—the low-carb bandwagon.
Anyway, the free sample of Meta Sauce serves a purpose other than propping up the hairnet industry. The company uses the sample to gain advantage through connection. Since I’ve tasted Meta Sauce, it holds a major advantage over the wall of UNKNOWNS and increases the odds I’ll buy a jar.
Without traction, what happens? We’re left spinning our wheels going nowhere. Or we careen into oncoming traffic and everyone dies.
Congratulations, your newsletter is now a French film.
I hope you’re happy.
Many authors sing the praises of the newsletter, yet if we pay close attention, the newsletter in and of itself isn’t the whole picture. Authors who have successful newsletters have built some sort of relationship with those on their mailing list.
They FIRST established rapport and built relationships via a blog, speaking engagements, social media, a backlist of books readers enjoy, or a combination of any of these.
THEN they created a newsletter.
There’s an excellent book I highly recommend by Scott and Alison Stratton called UnMarketing. Though Scott and Alison aren’t specifically teaching writers, their methods are spot on (namely because they’re a lot like what I’ve been preaching since 2007).
Scott and Alison mention the idea of traction –> momentum –> expansion. Which was why I was all YES…THIS!
I get a LOT of emails (usually after conference season) from new and now panicked writers who believe they need to create a newsletter RIGHT AWAY! My job is to talk them off the ledge and explain they’re suffering PCSD—Post Conference Stress Disorder.
How I feel about marketing ‘gurus’ who like to scare writers.
Odd are, some marketing guru informed them social media was a total waste of time and that NEWSLETTERS were the Golden Ticket. Maybe newsletters are the Golden Ticket. To me, they feel more like the Golden Tickets Willy Wonka handed out.
The reason writers go missing is they grow weary of failure. Many who message me about how to write a newsletter haven’t even finished the BOOK. Funny how so many gurus fail to mention that having a finished book first is A PRETTY BIG DEAL.
*left eye twitches*
Building a strong, healthy newsletter that people love is a lot like dating. The results are far better when the other party goes along willingly.
Sure, chloroforming a hot college coed and chaining her to a radiator guarantees she’s not going anywhere. But as my mother always told me, ‘Kristen, relationships built on duct tape always require more duct tape’ …which now seems like really odd advice.
But it works for our lesson today, so we’re rolling with it.
Newsletters are most effective when people on our list made a deliberate choice to BE on our list. We reached out to others, established a bond over kitten videos and a mutual love for serial killer documentaries, and then mentioned subscribing to our newsletter.
And they did.
This is traction. Once we gain traction, we can then build momentum and momentum is essential to expansion.
The problem with many newsletters is they’re too often viewed as shortcuts. Social media requires we invest time, energy, and emotional capital over a period of months or years. Newsletters are there to help bypass that icky job of talking to people before asking for their money.
It’s much faster to plunk down cash for a list of emails and blast a newsletter far and wide. In case y’all haven’t seen the transition, this is no longer a newsletter. It’s morphed into direct marketing (spam).
Spam is the inbred cousin of the newsletter. It’s about as welcome as the distant relative who moves in uninvited, drinks all the good whiskey and pawns your electronics to buy lotto tickets.
News About Newsletters
Yes, they can be effective if the list is populated with actual fans who wanted the newsletter in the first place. I already mentioned the folly of buying subscribers. But there are also sites that will force us to give an email before we can see the thing we clicked to see.
This reminds me of college and the guy who wouldn’t go away until I gave him my phone number. Poor Domino’s.
*Ponders how many AoL emails are captured this way*
Numbers of emails alone are no great indicator of anything but…um, numbers of emails. There’s this thing called an ‘open rate.’ It doesn’t matter if a million people receive our newsletter if no one opens it.
Sales can be one of the most terrifying words in the English language. If one happens to be a creative professional, let’s just multiply that fear level by ten…or a thousand.
In fact, many writers long to sign with legacy publishers for the sole reason they believe a major publisher will tend to all that vulgar sales business for them so they can simply write and create!
*clutches sides laughing*
It’s cool. I once thought the same. We’re all friends and philistines here.
The hard truth is that, even if we are fortunate enough to score a contract with NYC, if our book doesn’t sell, the publisher will eventually have to cut their losses (‘losses’ being code for ‘writers who fail to sell enough books’).
Publishing houses are businesses not charities, and throwing good money after bad is better left to Hollywood. This said, the idea of having to ‘do sales’ is still enough to make many creatives break out in hives.
We writers have a nasty habit of black-and-white thinking in regards to sales. In our minds, there are only TWO approaches to selling.
One approach is to be on every single social site running marketing blitzes, promotional campaigns, holding contests, and blasting people with emails/newsletters until they buy a book…or file for a restraining order.
The other option is we never tell anyone we’re an author or—GASP—that we have a book(s) for sale. Short of applying for WITSEC, we do everything and anything to hide that we’re a writer, including our NAME (refer to The Problem with Pen Names).
In an effort to avoid ‘sales’ we pretty much guarantee we’ll never sell any books…thus fulfilling the societal assumption that writers are all broke losers.
***We’ll tackle that bugaboo later.
I believe most writers are afraid of sales because they don’t understand what sales actually IS. Remember, we writers are in the entertainment business. Notice half that word is business and I dare you to name any business that will last very long without any sales.
And before y’all have a panic attack, what’s the title we authors covet most? New York Times Best Selling Author. Notice the title isn’t New York Times Best Writing Author.
Even though it should be *grumbles*.
Evolution is Real
Before we tackle misconceptions about sales, I want to point out that we’re no longer in the 20th century. I know, time flies, right? The audience (customer base) of 2018 has evolved and what worked in the 90s no longer works today. Doing MORE of what doesn’t work is…well, stupid.
Alas, I cannot count how many sales books, training programs, etc. still push tactics that are almost twenty years out of date.
Our customers have evolved, which means sales, promotion, marketing, branding, etc. must evolve as well or it will be virtually impossible to create meaningful connections that yield results.
Think of the English language. Have you ever tried to read the original Beowulf in Old English? To spare your eyes and WordPress from a cascading font meltdown, just listen to this for 15 seconds.
YES, THIS IS ENGLISH! Brought to us courtesy of Realm of History who apparently got someone drunk enough to be able to pronounce the words properly (as if anyone other than Cait would correct them *rolling eyes*)…
Beowulf Reading in Old English.wmv - YouTube
Can you imagine if we tried to hold a conversation speaking this way? Good luck getting a date, a job, or ordering a hamburger.
If the world has evolved, we’re wise to keep pace.
Sales Has NOT Evolved…Much
This profession is as old as time. In fact, sales has been around since Og first realized others wanted the pointy sticks he’d become rather adept at crafting. #TrueStoryIJustMadeUp
Once Og grasped that others were willing to give him berries, nuts, and shiny rocks in exchange for one of his pointy sticks, the concept of business/trade emerged and an entrepreneur was born!
Og, being the clever Homo ergaster he was, eventually realized a fellow tribe member might even offer a couple of hot daughters in exchange for a large order of extra-pointy sticks. So, he recruited his drinking buddies Ag and Ug to help.
In doing this, Og unwittingly discovered scalability.
Og understood that, the more pointy sticks he could fashion and the pointier the pointy stick, the better. This meant he also needed to find ways to let others know about his pointy sticks. Maybe even demonstrate some advantages of owning a pointy stick on say a fish, a squirrel, or an annoying neighbor.
Welcome to SALES!
Once we appreciate sales has been around since the dawn of time and is vital and necessary, we can relax a little. While sales in and of itself is a permanent societal fixture, tactics have to evolve. Don’t believe me? Try stabbing an annoying neighbor to demonstrate that knife you’re trying to sell and…point made.
*Bada bump snare*
Now that we’ve settled that sales is a good thing that’s here to stay, let’s do some myth-busting. I feel once we separate facts from fiction, it will be far easier to face our fears.
***Bonus points there for alliteration .
Myth #1: The high-pressure, fast-talking, aggressive personality is necessary to be good at sales.
There seems to be this cultural idea of what ‘personality’ is required in order to be successful in sales. Usually this is the fast-talking, Type A ‘extrovert’ willing to pummel any prospect into a purchase.
This is total bull sprinkles.
Yes, this type of salesperson exists and, odds are, we’ve all run into one…then run away from one. Good news is we’re now in the digital age.
The high-pressure, fast-talking, aggressive salesperson is a relic best left in the 90s with shoulder pads, fanny packs, the McPizza…and these things.
In the old days, badgering had no consequences. Now? We now can unfriend, unfollow, block, and unsubscribe. Or, if nothing else works, we can post on social media that this business or product is to be avoided more than The Black Death pandering a litter of rabid kittens in need of a loving home.
Myth #2: Salespeople Sell Stuff & Good Salespeople Sell A LOT of Stuff
Yeah, no. Not exactly.
Salespeople solve problems. Good salespeople solve a lot of problems or solve bigger problems.
The better a person solves problems, the more money they make. Why? Because happy customers LOVE to share a win because it makes us feel super smart, and we like to brag. Also, humans dig being helpful.
This is called ‘word-of-mouth.’
Why so many ‘sales tactics’ fail is the seller fixates on selling the product (their needs) instead of focusing on the best way to solve problems (the consumer’s needs).
I get that newsletters, automation, and email marketing are all the rage. Somewhere, somehow my business email was rufied and taken hostage. I’m relentlessly bombarded with emails from authors (or ‘PR firms’ representing authors) all wanting something FROM ME.
Read MY FREE book. Review MY FREE novel. Share MY FREE series with YOUR friends!
This is NOT SALES.
Sales is when someone solves my problems, not when some stranger ambushes me to solve a long@$$ list of their problems.
Some random writer’s lackluster sales are NOT my problem. When the author (or their ‘PR firm’) craps up my email with fresh lists of demands..
Last time, we talked about Impostor Syndrome, how many of us struggle with feeling like a fraud. This often dovetails into a nasty cycle of over-achieving as a coping mechanism to shield us from feelings, failure, pain, etc. But, like many coping mechanisms, they can be great for the short-term but a living hell if we allow them to become a habit.
Habits can be particularly insidious because its behavior so ingrained it’s subconscious. Add on top of this a world that keeps pushing us to go faster, do more, be more. This adds fuel to the proverbial fire.
Our modern world trains us to never hit the ‘OFF’ switch because there’s money to be made if we’re constantly plugged into the Matrix.
Perhaps we work at a computer all day. How do we take a break? We hop on-line, dive into social media, watch Netflix or play on-line games. We’re never taking time to ‘get out of our own head’ which is often why we lose touch with our emotions.
As a consequence, our capacity to ‘feel’ atrophies.
The data’s already piling up. Technology is wreaking havoc on our emotional, psychological and physical health. As technology becomes more ingrained in our everyday world, part of culture, we’re wise to pay attention. Technology is increasing codependency, anxiety, and depression, while also wrecking memory, social skills, and our ability to empathize.
Our Western culture already had an unhealthy relationship with emotions, and it seems technology is making this worse. We’re addicted to distraction.
Socially Acceptable Emotions
As humans, we’re naturally imbued with a vast pallet of emotions. No emotion is inherently good or bad but all are necessary and serve a purpose.
When we repress one emotion, it’s like plugging a geyser. That will only work so long until there is an eruption of some sort. For instance, if we believe we don’t deserve joy and shuffle past this emotion to go onto the ‘next’ achievement, it can eventually manifest as grief.
Playing armchair shrink, we’re grieving the moments of joy that have come and gone that we failed to grab hold of. We lose sense of purpose because if there is no joy, no sense of I DID IT! Why are we even bothering?
There’s this odd social dogma that being happy is good, and, that if we aren’t happy something is wrong with us. Anger, sadness, disappointment, disillusionment, rage, fear, etc. are ‘bad.’ If we can’t be any of these, then busy works just fine and comes with lots of kudos.
When someone is sad, angry, upset, it makes us uncomfortable. We switch into trying to make the person ‘feel better.’ But is this always the best course of action? It is (perhaps) for us, because ‘bad’ emotions make us uncomfortable. Additionally, since we’ve been reared unprepared for these emotions within ourselves, how can we help anyone else?
Grief and Loss
On the last post, I mentioned I’d recently come unstitched because I use work and achievement and being responsible to numb out. Yet, if we study human history, we’ve gotten away from many of the traditions and practices which used to accommodate the ‘bad’ emotions.
For instance, let’s dial back a century and look at death and loss. I recently listened to an excellent Southern Gothic, Black Water by Michael McDowell (the unabridged saga). In the book, when there’s a death, those impacted hung black wreaths on their doors. They also hung black wreaths on the front of the cars. Women wore black and men wore black arm bands.
Grief and loss possessed a physical outward expression, a bold honesty to the world claiming pain. Oh and wonders of wonders! This was OKAY.
The community respected, honored and nurtured those hurting. There used to be a mandatory time period for grieving.
Yet, how many of you have lost a loved one and work wanted to know if you’d be back within the week? How many of you have experienced a loss and YOU expected YOU to be back at work within the week?
Modern World & Loss
I spent most of my growing up years with my grandparents, meaning my grandmother served also as a mother. I lost my grandmother July 4th two years ago. Problem was she died when July 4th happened on a Monday. No long weekend to get over that one.
Also, since her death was ‘only’ one in a long series of losses, I didn’t mention it a lot. I’d already ‘burdened others’ with four deaths in the previous year. Don’t want to be too needy. Then, after she passed, I lost four more loved ones in the next six months.
To be clear, no we weren’t hit by bad luck or plague. I was extremely blessed with a large family I loved very much, who lived VERY long lives. This meant these great aunts and uncles and grandparents had been a fixture in my world since I could remember. Problem was they were all hitting their 80s and 90s at about the same time…meaning I was losing them at about the same time.
Yet, what complicated my grieving (or lack thereof) was that even if I’d lost ONE person, our culture rushes past death.
To be blunt, our culture rushes past loss in general. Breakups, divorces, job loss, kids going off to college, getting dumped, losing a business, etc. are all ‘deaths.’
Yet, how often are we encouraged to ‘forget about it,’ ‘move on,’ ‘get back on the horse that threw ya,’ and so forth? Worse, how often do we encourage others the same way? *cringes* Our kids cry because they lost a game, fought with a friend, or broke a toy, and immediately we comfort…and distract them. Again, guilty as charged.
Why can’t someone feel sad? Maybe WE can feel sad. Calm down. Baby steps.
How Does It FEEL?
Experiences, good and bad, are meant to be FELT. Yet, how often are we thinking when we should be FEELING? Part of me is sad that there are not a lot of pictures of my growing up years.
Cameras, film, processing film cost money. Most regular people couldn’t afford home movie cameras to ‘document’ the birthday, graduation, birth, baby’s first steps, etc.
Yet, I’m also happy about this. The handful of old pictures evoke far more emotion than the 1700 images on my current iPhone. Why? Because BACK THEN, I was fully present in the vacation, party, family reunion, etc. I was free to feel.
I watch those around me (and I’m guilty, too) so busy taking pictures (to post on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or to ‘remember’) they’re actually not present in the PRESENT. Left brain (analytical) is so busy documenting the joy, we’re not slowing down to FEEL the joy because right brain is told to wait.
It was tough for me when I visited New Zealand last year. I wanted to take pictures of everything! Film ALL THE THINGS so I could REMEMBER!
I had to chastise myself to stop, put down the iPhone and BE PRESENT. Experience the majesty, the elation, the beauty and FEEL them all.
Imprint the moments in my bones and my mind. Viewing mountains through a small screen was a shill for stopping to simply enjoy the view.
We’ve turned into a world of documentary-makers. Yet oddly, what good is the film or picture to recall a moment where we failed to be fully present?
If we’re not experiencing emotions during the graduation or the wedding, then what is that short video truly going to bring back? What will we feel?
Paralysis of Analysis
If we’re numbing and avoiding grief and emotionally absent from joy, this has a cumulative effect. Over time, we drift away from what makes us human (our feelings). When we are hurt or angry or sad, we analyze it away.
Google a blog about how to handle being dumped. Enjoying a good time? Grab the phones and DOCUMENT.
It’s fair to say most of the population over thirty is growing increasingly concerned with how much people are staring at their phones all the time.
We see families at dinner in a restaurant talking to people on-line, ignoring the ones across the table. Couples on vacation busy taking pictures of ‘moments’ instead of making real moments.
I’m old enough to remember when beauty parlors (salons) were hives of talk, chatter, gossip and laughter. Now, when I go get my hair done the women all sit staring at tablets and phones, checking email and Facebook.
I’ve made it a point to interrupt them, especially the young ones.
One time, I interrupted a young 20-Something on her phone to talk. I asked her about what she was doing, why she was there to get her hair highlighted…and she gaped at me like a deer caught in headlights. Smiling, I said, ‘Facebook will be there in an hour. Promise. But I won’t be. Tell me where you’re going to college?’
Initially she seemed on the verge of apoplexy, but over time was smiling and telling me about how she was going off to UT Austin and was hoping to go to law school. Within minutes, she was laughing and excited and had forgotten all about her phone.
New publishing houses? Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of WIDEHAUS.
FREE! For the love of all that is chocolate, free us from FREE! *takes soothing breath* I’ve been blogging for over ten years, a witness to the terrifying and extraordinary changes in publishing.
Initially, I was NO fan of self-publishing because entropy is alive and well…even with books. I knew once we opened Pandora’s Publishing, there would be no turning back.
Sometimes I really hate being right.
Amazon (and others) weaponized on-line shopping and launched us into an age of FREE, EASY, CHEAP, ACCESSIBLE and LEGAL.
Or, as I like to call it—Operation F.E.C.A.L.
Amazon wanted to implode traditional publishing. Their goal was to dominate on-line retail and raze the big-box model in order to make room for new brick-and-mortar Amazon stores (smaller and smart-stocked using algorithms). What better way to obliterate publishing than by handing out author participation trophies?
Yet, there have been plenty of consequences. Namely, LOTS of F.E.C.A.L. material out there.
A lot. *swats flies away*
It began innocently enough…
Authors Longed to Be FREE
Before social media, Amazon, self-publishing, etc. authors had little to no control over the business of their business. Only two viable publishing options existed—traditional and vanity press.
So let’s make that ONE viable publishing option. Vanity press published anyone willing to pay to play author.
Vanity publishers had a singular standard writers needed to pass—a credit check. If the check cleared or the credit charge went through? Bada bing bada boom! Welcome to being ‘a published author.’
Anyway, once the big-box bookstores arrived on scene like the Borg suddenly warping into sensor range, writers took the hardest hit. Publishers looooved the big-box concept because their business model relied on massive pre-orders to fund the machine (and still does).
****Take a gander at HOW many books it takes to FILL bookstores that had an average size of 26,000 feet (going as HIGH as 60,000). Can you say KA-CHING?
Publishers reveled in the boom. Meanwhile, many authors who’d previously made an excellent living during the Indie Bookstore era, had to dust off the resume.
Big-box stores bought books in volume. Yet, they ordered a TON of what books were most likely to SELL in volume. Thus, many mid-list authors who’d previously enjoyed a healthy income off twelve, twenty or even forty books now only made royalties off ONE (their most current novel).
Authors who were already household names did better than ever because of simple math and Business 101. What Borders or Barnes & Noble wasn’t going to carry every single Stephen King book ever written?
Nothing personal. Only business.
Problem was, virtually the entire author middle class stood shellshocked, ears ringing, arms loaded with a backlist of excellent books now rendered worthless.
Publishers—smitten with paper—didn’t even consider releasing these titles solely as e-books. Instead, they blithely handed seasoned authors their rights to these mothballed backlists.
Amazon (and other self-publishing outlets like Smashwords) breathed life back into great books that HAD passed the gatekeepers. Many could legitimately claim New York Times Best Seller or USA Today Best Seller status.
Self-publishing provided authors who’d passed the gauntlets and invested years cultivating a vetted backlist a fresh way to breath new life into ‘old’ books.
In Christmas of 2009, when e-readers finally tipped into mainstream, readers were dying for titles to load on the new Kindle. Authors who’d defected made bank. These authors also improved self-publishing’s image problem.
Before 2009, most viewed self-publishing as a cheap version of vanity press. It certainly was not seen as a viable publishing path.
But, then writers got creative and soon success stories emerged. The dark horse authors like Hugh Howey and Wool, Andy Weir and The Martian, and Amanda Hocking emerged.
Yet, something ‘else’ emerged.
Before Amazon, Smashwords, social media, algorithms, etc. most writers became writers because they loved to WRITE. Sure, I think it’s fair to say most of us wanted to be successful and make money, but cash was not our primary motivation.
Then folks like John Locke changed the literary landscape. In my POV? This is where everything changed (and NOT for the better). Granted, kudos to Locke and his success. I even (tried) to read his How I Sold a Million E-Books in 5 Months, but there were not enough antacids in the world for me to finish.
See, Locke wasn’t writing because of any love for the written word. A book, to him, was a commodity like a cheap cheeseburger (his words). To his credit, he saw and capitalized on a rare alignment of the stars and won big.
Yet, he made bank only because he hit the ground hard with ebooks right as people were starting to use e-readers and there was a dearth of e-books on the market.
Since traditional publishers refused to lower prices, readers swarmed to FREE and .99 books faster than a cloud of Alabama gnats into a fresh glass of sweet tea.
With pretty much the same results.
Readers stuck, mired and drowning and trying to escape the very thing that lured them in. Readers swarmed in for the FREE, only to realize they were trapped in bad writing, terrible formatting, and did I mention bad writing?
Plenty of other authors followed suit with FREE books! And CHEAP books! These writers sold a lot of books and earned some impressive titles.
Yet, it took time for consumers (readers) to catch on that FREE was almost ALWAYS a giant waste of time.
Over the next few years, various other gimmicks caught on. Free books, cheap books, box sets, juking algorithms, and even authors who relied on flat out deception—brand confusion—to garner sales.
I seriously had an ‘authorpreneur’ who did this and gave me this ‘business advice.’ According to this business-savvy person, I could, say, take the ‘pen name’ of Jane Evonovech then make my covers resemble a real Janet Evanovich. Similar colors, fonts, styling, etc.
Because that isn’t shady AT ALL.
Back then, Amazon was far from perfecting algorithms, so these Bait-and-Switch Rotex Authors DID sell a lot of books, make a ton of money, and were able to claim NTYBSA status…riding the tails of a legitimate author’s success.
Of course, when this person gave me said ‘advice,’ I parted with my own council. Save for a good attorney. You’ll need one. And I was right.
Also, I prefer to earn my sales and titles on my own merit, thanks.
Over the past few years, I’ve lost count of the fads and gimmicks. Amazon often tried launching new ways for readers to discover new authors AND for writers (Amazon) to make money.
The fundamental problem with Amazon has always been the same. They think like John Locke. To Amazon, a novel might as well be a selfie-stick, a tent, a push-up bra or a banana slicer.
There’s no inherent reverence for writing as a craft and an art. In the Amazon business model, consumers are the ‘gate-keepers’ for everything. Yet, when it comes to a book, Amazon can’t refund the readers’ TIME. Sure the book was free, but our time was not.
Consequences of FREE
Amazon doesn’t care about ONE author selling millions of books. Why? Easier to have half a million wanna-be-authors sell twenty books.
Then coax them to write more and more and more books that only sell twenty copies. All those eager creatives hitting PUBLISH like pulling a lever on a slot machine and praying for triple 7s.
***Meanwhile paying for cover art, interior design, and promotional material.
The big-box store supported one oligarchy at the expense of the mid-list and new authors. We broke FREE! Only to fuel a brand new oligarchy. A handful of people getting rich off the work of the many.
Sprinkle just enough success to keep the ‘many’ trying their luck.
The rest of us regular folks? Well, we’re left with the landfill of toxic waste hoping to find something worth our time. It’s why I only buy fiction off Audible. If a book sucks (and MANY do, even from Big Five publishers), I can return it with no problem. If I like a book, THEN I buy in paper.
For Love or Money?
I’ve been in this business long enough to notice the changes. Early on, writers were adamantly opposed to branding, social media, platform-building, etc. All that mattered was the quality of the book because they LOVED and RESPECTED the written word.
It’s why my merely mentioning on-line branding was enough to induce apoplexy.
The problem (as I saw it in 2008) was that eventually traditional publishers were going to require a brand, platform, social media presence as well as a superior book. They had to in order to keep up with (okay, stay alive in) the new F.E.C.A.L. business model.
Borders had imploded and Barnes & Noble was already bleeding. With fewer POS (Point of Sales) locations more people were shopping on-line.
I knew there was no getting out of building a brand and on-line platform, so might as well get started as soon as possible (without gimmicks and juking algorithms and spamming the crap out of everyone).
Harsh, I know. Alas, sometimes tough love is necessary for the greater good. Cait Reynolds here today, and what I’m about to reveal is the secret heart’s cry of pretty much every freelance editor (at least the ones that don’t just run manuscripts through Grammarly).
Having worked as a freelance editor for many years, I’ve seen it all from the articulate and amazing, to the works of pure WTH?
I’ve also been given ARCs of books that are ‘professionally edited,’ but are appallingly full of typos, grammatical errors, and trite characters and plots.
I’m not necessarily blaming the editors in these cases. I get it. Sometimes, a work is simply so awful that we would have to completely rewrite it just to get it into passable shape. And, for a fraction of a penny per word, it isn’t worth it.
While there are definitely things editors can do to start helping to correct and cure this epidemic of literary mediocrity, there are things that writers need to do as well. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.
An editor hates…1. When writers think they don’t have to do at least one or two rounds of their own editing before sending us a manuscript.
I’m not just talking about proofreading for commas (though, that’s another thing coming up). Everyone is in such a rush these days to get their work up on Amazon as fast as they can. So many authors finish up a “manuscript,” hit save, and then email it to their editor without a second thought….or a second look.
Let me throw out this hypothetical situation. Say we were sending this manuscript to an editor at Harper Collins or Penguin. Would we hit save and then send it off without combing through every line?
Or, would we let the manuscript sit for a week or two, giving our brain time and distance so we can go back at it with fresh eyes? Would we read through it critically, looking for (and correcting!) everything from typos and inconsistencies to doughy dialogue and plot holes? Would we repeat this process at least once if not twice more?
We probably would because we know the editor is probably hard-to-please with extremely high expectations about the degree of polish in any work they receive.
So why is sending a manuscript to a freelance editor any different? It shouldn’t be.
Freelance editors aren’t entirely innocent in this, either. We take on work instead of asking for a sample to see what the manuscript is like and then refusing to work on it until the author has gone back and cleaned it up. But, Amazon KDP has both exacerbated and preyed on authors’ fear of rejection to create a murky industry that cycles off of accepting mediocrity as a norm.
2. When authors shop around for the cheapest editing services instead of the best editing services.
Editing is one of those things in life where we really do get what we pay for.
Professional freelance editors with experience and training beyond “I love reading,” and “I’m a writer, too,” are pretty rare commodities these days. If we are lucky enough to be taken on by one of these editorial unicorns, we should expect to pay the going rate for unicorns.
Many authors don’t want to go that route because it would mean having to save up money and probably publish fewer books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because not every idea will make a good book.
Also, like cheese, wine, and wisdom, good ideas and stories need time to mature. We need time to noodle and daydream, to experience those moments of sudden inspiration while doing the dishes or walking the dog.
Instead, far too many authors slap down 60,000 words for whatever idea pops into their heads and then rush on to the next idea. Because if we’re not putting out three books a month, we’re gonna get tossed off the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.
Producing books in volume means paying for production with an eye to getting volume-discounted services.
The average going rate for editors who provide services to these authors is about $240 for two rounds of editing on a 60,000-word manuscript.
Let’s say that an average editing effort takes 20 hours. That’s $12/hr (before self-employment taxes). It’s only our aversion to fryolators that keeps us from going to work at McDonald’s.
I’m not even going to talk about how authors will pay $500-$800 for a custom cover design but want that $200 editing job to cover concept editing, line editing, and proofreading. It’s enough to turn an editor into a jumper. Or cover designer because screw this $h!t.
An editor gets stabby when…3. All an author does is accept track changes and sends the manuscript back for round two.
Yes, I have received manuscripts back like this. It’s like the author just ignored all conceptual, content, and craft comments I painstakingly made. This is frustrating because it makes editing incredibly tedious. More than that, it’s disheartening.
When a writer ignores editorial guidance, he or she is also turning down the opportunity to become better at the craft of writing. A good editor doesn’t just catch typos and minor inconsistencies. A skilled editor can identify a writer’s strengths and weaknesses and teach the writer to enhance the first and correct the second.
I’m not sure why writers are so often dismissive of editorial suggestions. Is it because they are in such a rush to get the book out (I see you, KDP Hamster Wheel of Death) that they simply don’t have the time to do a proper editing job?
Or, could it be that they don’t want to take on the daunting task of tearing apart a completed manuscript and painstakingly reworking and rewriting it? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that trying to improve their writing would imply they’re not that good to start with and probably would never be able to get a traditional publishing contract.
Ignoring editorial guidance is also disrespectful. Let’s go back to that Harper Collins example. How inclined would we be to ignore an editor from Harper Collins who returned our manuscript with suggestions for not only reworking a good third of the book to tighten the plot, but also for learning to be more succinct yet vivid with our descriptions (meaning we need to go page-by-page on our own and make changes)?
So, why ignore guidance and suggestions just because an editor is freelance?
4. There are stupid grammar and usage mistakes in a manuscript.
Seriously. While I get that there are some fine points with grammar that we all fumble with from time-to-time, there is absolutely NO excuse for using the wrong word or using a word incorrectly.
Words are a writer’s business, like medicine is a doctor’s business. How much would we trust a doctor who glanced at a fractured tibia and said, “Uh, seems like you broke your leg thingy.”
How about a list of cringe-inducing usage mistakes I see every single day in manuscripts and self-published books?
Lossed (not even a word)/lost
Are some of these typos or bleary brain slip-ups? Maybe, but frankly, these should be caught and corrected long before an editor ever sees the manuscript. However, when the wrong word is used consistently, that tells me the writer doesn’t actually know the meaning.
Even worse, when I see incorrect usage that has made it into the final book, I’m ninety-nine percent sure the editor doesn’t know what he or she is doing…or committed seppuku halfway through the editing process.
In terms of grammar, I get that we all have different levels of training. However, just like we don’t want a broken-leg-thingy doctor, I don’t want to see writers who don’t know and don’t bother to learn the most basic rules of language.
And finally, an editor really, really hates… 5. When we can tell all a writer really wants is the look-at-me-I-published-a-book participation trophy.
The National Association of Recovering Freelancers* put out a study that said four out of five freelance editors suffer a nervous breakdown due to the near-lethal combination of shoddy writing, shoddier story conceptualization and development, and repeated exposure to bad grammar.