Monday, January 28, 2013

Considering Self-Publishing? First Take Guy Kawasaki's Advice

This article first appeared in Forbes Magazine in 2013, but it is still relevant today. Guy Kawasaki was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing the Mac in 1984. He has written several best-selling books. His thoughts on "artisanal publishing" and your "karmic scoreboard" are worth considering. 

What really stands out for me in this interview is his answer to "Why write a book in the first place?" Guy Kawasaki says, "If you’re writing a book simply as a means to an end – to get rich, or to get the word out about your expertise, or to attract more consulting or coaching business – forget it."

I have to agree with him. Writing a book requires a considerable investment of time and effort. Getting it published requires Herculean stamina. If you are self-publishing, you're going to have to spend hours every day promoting your book. And if you are being traditionally published, you'll have to put up with rejections, delays, and ultimately, you will spend hours every day promoting your book. All of that takes conviction. So, write if you have something to say, and then be prepared to stand behind it.   

The "I" in this article refers to Kathy Caprino, who conducted the interview.


Considering Self-Publishing? Don't Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki's Advice

By Kathy Caprino, Contributor, Forbes Jan 21, 2013

Recently, I had the enormous pleasure of chatting with Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of, founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures, and former Chief Evangelist for Apple. Guy is the author of ten books, including Enchantment, Reality Check, and Rules for Revolutionaries. If you haven’t followed Guy’s writing and blog, you’re truly missing out. He’s utterly brilliant, wise, iconoclastic, brutally frank, and downright hilarious.

And if you’re considering self-publishing a book, make the first resource you read Guy’s new book APE: Author – Publisher – Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book, co-written by Shawn Welch.

I don’t recommend resources lightly, but as one who worked in traditional publishing for years and had my own book Breakdown, Breakthrough, published traditionally, I believe Guy’s new book is a true winner, full of practical, realistic solutions, strategies and tips for self-publishers.

In 2011 the publisher of Guy’s New York Times bestseller, Enchantment, could not fill an order for 500 ebook copies of the book. Because of this experience, Guy self-published his next book, What the Plus!: Google+For the Rest of Us, and learned first-hand that self-publishing is a complex, confusing, and idiosyncratic process. He decided to learn as much as he could about successful self-publishing, and share his knowledge with all those who want to venture into the self-publishing arena.

I asked Guy about the process of self-publishing, what he’s learned from it, and also what makes it worthwhile to write a book in the first place.

Here’s Guy’s take:

Why write a book in the first place?

If you’re writing a book simply as a means to an end – to get rich, or to get the word out about your expertise, or to attract more consulting or coaching business – forget it. Stop what you’re doing right now. If you’re thinking just about what you can get out of it, you’re probably writing a “crappy” book (Guy’s word), and your “crap” will be forever immortalized in black and white. Something you definitely don’t want.

Guy advises, “Write a book because you have something important to say. If you have a life story that inspires, or information that you believe everyone in a particular niche NEEDS to know, then do it.” But don’t just rush to get something out because you think it will enhance your career, profile, business, or bank account. You just won’t succeed with those inner motives.

(On that note, I’ve been floored by the advice I’ve heard some small business and entrepreneurial success coaches give my colleagues and clients – to just slap together a book quickly and get it out there, to make money and build their credibility. I’m with Guy – your credibility is shot if you do that, and trust me, your discerning readers can tell what you’re trying to do. And it’s important to realize that the vast majority of authors don’t make any money to speak of from their books.)

Your karmic scoreboard

Guy believes in the concept of a “karmic scoreboard” – that what you put out in the world will come back around to you. Self-publishing solely to advance yourself reduces your “karmic score.” On the other hand, being kind, generous, and helpful – being of service to others as your first goal – increases your karmic score. If your motivation is to help others with no expectations of what you’ll get in return, you’ll find that the process is also self-supportive, because when you set out to support the enrichment of others, it comes back to you tenfold.

Artisanal publishing (vs. self-publishing) – the new trend in publishing

In his book APE, Guy talks about “artisanal publishing” as a process that features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end. In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read.

The self-publishing world has eradicated the filters and barriers that the traditional publishing world represented (where editors – typically male — made the judgments about content and worthiness). In the old days, the imprint of the publisher was a proxy for quality – if you were accepted by the publisher, you passed the test. Now the proxy for quality is how your book fares in terms of reviews and ratings on Amazon, and sales. Customers vote on the book’s quality or on their need to expose themselves to your material by clicking to purchase, or not clicking.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Submitting Your Website to Web Directories

Updated 1/18/24 

If you have recently launched a website, you may be wondering how to get it noticed. New websites may take weeks to get “crawled” by search engines – a delay which can transform the heady, champagne-guzzling high of a website launch into a nail-biting, pillow-punching pit of despair. Ignored websites are like those trees that fall in forests in which there are apparently no animals with auditory capabilities.

Once you have passed that trial by fire, there is another one awaiting you. The search engines have found your website, but there is no traffic – other than members of various networking sites you have entreated to please visit! Now is the time to list your website on a web directory.

Web directories are not search engines. Search engines display lists of websites based on keywords found on the pages of your site. In contrast, a web directory lists websites by category and subcategory. Most web directories are run by people, usually volunteer editors. This can make the process of listing your site just as slow as a search engine. But it is worth the wait, because directories also include descriptions of the website's contents (written by you). A good, detailed description provides increased incentive for people to visit your website.

Important Tips for Website Submissions

Because website directories are organized by category (and staffed by harried humans), it is important to do the following:

  • Find the most relevant category for your website, including sub-category.
  • Include your most important keywords in your description.
  • Observe submission guidelines (read them first!)
  • Keep your descriptions concise and informative. (Your description is not an ad, avoid words like “best” and CAPS.)
  • Look at the titles and descriptions of websites in the same category. Make yours similar in tone.
  • Don't submit to a number of directories all at once. Search engines respond to a progression of new links each month.

Free directories

About Us

Currently, more than 9 million people visit each month. Aside from listing your website, AboutUs provides a great “Home Page Analysis” to help you maximize your SEO. The analysis not only indicates problems with meta-tags, descriptions, and images, but will explain how to fix them. (I used this feature to improve the subheading on my site listings.) Highly recommended.

R-TT Web Directory

This directory is organized by area of interest. It includes a section on "Arts." It doesn't get quite as much traffic as About Us or All the Websites, but it's free.

Paid Directories

Best of the Web

Best of the Web was founded in 1994 at SUNY Buffalo. It introduced the concept of recognizing the best sites online (through an annual vote). Best of the Web has long since abandoned their web awards, but it continues to maintain a list of high-quality, spam-free websites. The company employs a team of paid editors that search the web for sites with original content, taking into account user-friendliness and normative web standards. Best of the Web lists both commercial and non-commercial sites, which are reviewed by paid editors. (Best of the Web also maintain a Blog Directory which lists the best blogs online.)

As far as increasing traffic to your site, Best of the Web is considered one of the best directories to get into. 

Website Directories Lists

There are literally hundreds of directories out there. With the plethora of web directories, many of which may not apply to fiction writers (although most do list author sites), you may want to check out the most reliable and well-regarded sites before you start listing. Below are three well-organized and informative lists of directories. Go through these to find the niches that apply to you.

Best Web Directories of 2022

With a little research, careful planning, and a judicious selection of where to list your site, your author's website can achieve not only greater exposure, but some SEO that is better than … (something else with three letters).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

ISBNs: When You Need One and When You Don't

Updated 1/16/24

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique number that identifies books by title, edition (hardback, paperback, electronic ), publisher, and by language. ISBNs have been in use as a means of identifying books since 1970. Originally, the code was 10 digits long, but since 2007, ISBNs have contained 13 digits.

Each section of the code refers to a different piece of information. For example, in the code 978-0-9883646-0-8 the initial prefix “978” identifies the item as a book, the following “0” means it is written in English (a “1” may also be used). The next long string of numbers identifies the publisher. The following “0” represents the title and edition of the book (electronic in this case). The last number is a verifying code based on an algorithm that you don't need to know about.

In the United States ISBNs are distributed by Bowker. You can purchase one ISBN for $125, or, if you feeling prolific, you can purchase a block of ten for $295. The question is, do you need one if you are self-publishing?

When you need an ISBN

If you are thinking of putting your book into print, whether it's through print-on-demand, or any other self-publishing print venue, you will need an ISBN. You will also need the barcode that is normally found above (and below) the ISBN. (There are a number of sites that generate barcodes for free.) Without an ISBN, no library will ever order your book, no book store will stock it, no one will review it – your book may as well not exist.

When you don't need an ISBN

If you are epublishing, you don't need to purchase an ISBN. Amazon doesn't require one. (Amazon assigns its own code, an ASIN number). Barnes & Noble has gone that route for Nook ebooks as well. If you decide to distribute your ebook through Smashwords, they will assign an ISBN from their own stock. (However, the ISBN code will identify Smashwords as the publisher.)

When I published my ebook I didn't realize how useless an ISBN was going to be. Not knowing the ways of libraries, I assumed they would be able to order my ebook via its ISBN number. At the time, I didn't realize that libraries only order books – print or electronic – through distributors. To my dismay, I discovered that distributors deal only with publishing houses. (In my state, the distributor is OverDrive. But in other states, Smashwords and other ebook publishers may be used.) The problem was, even though I was giving my ebook away for free, no library would take it. So my rationale for buying the ISBN was completely wrong.

If you are planning on starting with an ebook, but are on the fence about about whether to self-publish in print format (or are considering trying to snag a publisher), you can always purchase an ISBN later. My advice is to save your money and wait.

Learn more about ISBNs HERE.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to Get 40,000 Readers Without Guest Blogging

Updated 1/15/24

Below is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti that appeared on Kikolani on December 10, 2019. Ciotti takes an unconventional view of guest blogging. His methods might not be entirely applicable to many writers' blogs, but his comments on reciprocity deserve serious consideration. (The original article has some neat graphics. It's worth taking a look.)

What Ciotti has to say about email lists is especially important. Having a list of people who want to hear from you, and about you, is incredibly valuable. Instead of trying to glean a few followers from a vast, impersonal crowd, your time would be much better spent talking to people who are your fans.

Just as an aside, I started out by guest blogging. After a few months, I gave up and began focusing exclusively on my blog. Currently, Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity gets between 80,000 and 100,000 page views a month.
Only a few months ago, I started my recent project, an electronic music blog by the name of Sophistefunk.

Before I get into the details, let’s get with the goods:

I’ve hit over 40000 unique visitors after only being live for a few short months.

And I did it without a single guest post about this blog!

But how?

Well, that’s what I’m here today to tell you!

If you are looking for some sort of secret sauce, look elsewhere, but if you want to see some smart implementation of direct-to-success techniques that you can use in any niche, read on, this post is for you.

But first, let me address why I didn’t use guest posting for this new blog…

Seriously, Why No Guest Posts?

When it comes to guest blogging, I will give myself a pat on the back and say that I’m fairly experienced in the process: I’ve used it to grow almost every blog I’ve ever started/worked with.


What they don’t tell you in the blogging world very often is that sometimes, guest posting is not always a viable option depending on the niche that you are in.

Sure, there are always ways to post about your blog (no matter the topic) on “blogging about blogging” sites (only a small fraction of which contain any useful info, luckily Kikolani is part of that small fraction).

The thing is, these types of visitors aren’t always ideal: their main interest is in blogging, not necessarily the topic that your blog is about.

I really encountered this problem with my electronic music blog: music blogs almost NEVER accept guest posts, why should they?

Most posts on a music site are going to be media focused (videos & audio) and are relatively short, there’s no need to bring in another author.

So, for all of the support that guest blogging gets (and rightfully so), when it comes to a niche where you can’t realistically use it as a traffic generating method in a consistent manner, what is a blogger to do? Totally give up on the niche?


Where there is a will, or more specifically, a will to do some legwork, there is a way

What Guest Blogging is Really About…

As great as guest blogging can be for direct traffic, building awareness, and indirect traffic in terms of backlinking & SEO, the real benefit behind guest blogging is that is allows you to build relationships with people influential in your niche.

In reality, providing a ton of value with a great guest post can go a lot farther than a handful of new visitors to your site: by providing value to an author of a popular blog, you plant the seeds to build a relationship which can result in this author doing a lot more for you than just accepting your post.

In my interview with Leo of the BufferApp, Leo stated that he believes one of the most powerful aspects of guest blogging is that it typically leads to reciprocation between the guest post submitter and the blog’s author.

That is, if you provide a ton of value to another blogger with a guest post, they will often reciprocate by checking out your content, and if they like what they see, they’ll share it with their followers not because they feel indebted, but because they want to share awesome content.

These types of relationships are absolutely essential if you want to build a popular blog in a target niche, and guest blogging is really only a means to that end, rather than the actual end itself.

So I knew I could succeed in the end goal of building relationships, the only thing I was really lacking was the use of guest blogging to serve as the “ice-breaker” to the influential people in my niche.

Then it hit me.

What if, this time around, other bloggers were NOT the most influential people in my topic?

How To Build Relationships

I began to realize that in my niche, it was actually the musicians who were the most influential in terms of having large followings and receptive audiences: music blogs are a dime a dozen, so building relationships with artists was a surefire way for me to stand out.

I began to realize that I didn’t need guest blogging in this circumstance, and my findings lead me to 3 main points which I’m going to discuss with you today:
  1. Why email is the greatest “social network” of all 
  2. Sometimes it’s best to network with those around you, rather than those “above” you 
  3. Social media, when used correctly, helps small ideas blossom into bigger projects 
All 3 of these techniques played a vital role in creating the consistent traffic that I see today, and below I’m going to show you exactly how I went about it.

1.) Email Is King: Bow Down to the Greatest “Social Network”

I’ve always had a saying when it comes to blogging that shocks many people when they first hear it, but I stand by it to this day…

You should be spending almost as much time in your email client as you do writing posts in order to build your blog!

It might sound crazy, but as many experienced bloggers know, email is where all of the magic happens!

Sure, social media is a great traffic generation source, and keeping in touch with people on social networks is a great place to build relationships (will get into that in a bit), but the fact remains is that the “meat” of your business dealings will take place behind the scenes, using email.

You should be as fluent with proper email writing techniques are you are writing blog posts.

Think about it: do you know the best way to approach someone for a guest blogging submission?

How about for bigger requests, like interviews, collaborations, or asking them to support your content because you think they’d be interested in it?

It might sound scary, but you are going to need to know how to talk to influencers via email and know how to capture their attention.

I used email as the absolute backbone for grabbing attention for my blog.

Generally speaking, my two most popular post types (keeping in mind that this is a music blog) are:
  • Interviews with artists 
  • Premieres of brand new tracks
Neither of these things could be accomplished without the use of email, so no matter how many tweets I sent out, I can safely attribute to my blog breaking the “initial hump” solely by my consistent quality of content and my effective use of email.

There are a few key points that I want you to know about when it comes to email (and I’m a guy to both sends and receives a ton of email…)
  • Always keep your messages short, unless you’ve come to agreement with the recipient to talk about a topic at length 
  • Keep your subject line as straightforward as possible, and use numbers so people can gauge time commitment 
  • Try to reference a past experience with the person in question, even if it’s just something like “enjoyed your latest video/project/blog post” 
Here’s a sample email that I’ve used to land interviews with popular musicians:

Subject Line: 3 quick interview questions

[Notice how I address what the interview is about, use a number and the word "quick" to signify a small workload, and get right to the point]
Hey (Artist Name), 
Just wanted to shoot you a quick email, I’ve had your latest album on repeat lately and I’ve been featuring you a ton on my blog, big fan of your music. 
I was wondering if you had the time to answer 3 quick interview questions for me and my readers, I know they are always raving about your work and it would be my pleasure to feature some of your thoughts on my blog. 
I’ve done past interviews before with [Example] and they turned out really well:http://LinkToAPastInterview 
Here are the questions below, thanks again for your time and keep making great music, and I’ll keep supporting it =)

You’ll notice I advocate a 3-5 paragraph max, with no more than two sentences per paragraph.

Really, the shorter the better, this one was actually a bit longer of an example because I wanted to fit a few strategies in.

You’ll also notice that I start off with “I’m a fan”, signifying some loyalty to the person I’m reaching out to.

I also state the benefits in a direct manner: “My audience would enjoy…”, telling the person that I have an audience that they could get more exposure to.

Lastly, I post a the best example I have, one of mine is an interview with Michal Menert, which got over 180 shares in 24 hours.

2.) Networking With Those Around You

When it comes to creating real connections and doing smart networking, most people have the right idea, but far too often I see people attempting to network only with people “above them”, and they often miss out on the great connections that are in plain sight around them.

The thing about networking with the “little guy” is that they are much more likely to reciprocate, and by showcasing their content, you are putting the spotlight on an up-and-comer, which is much more interesting than posting about the “big guys” that everybody already knows about.

This kind of networking can be really rewarding, just look at how Tom Ewer’s post on 5 Non A-List Bloggers You Should Be Following got mentioned on one of the biggest Problogger posts of the year, and how I’m mentioning it right now!

So, how was I able to utilize “helping the little guy” to build my blog up to 40,000 visitors, and more importantly, how can you do the same?

When it comes to running a music blog, the artists are king, since they are really the content providers for your site (although I published my thoughts and the occasional electronic music podcast, artists still rule the roost).

I began realizing that my featuring of much smaller artists had a larger relative impact, in that by featuring their music or by linking to them, I was sending them a respectable amount of traffic, but a mere blip on the radar to huge, popular artists.

By featuring a larger artist’s music, I wouldn’t even get a friendly tweet (that’s not to disrespect them, with more popularity comes less time for networking with small to medium sites like mine).

Yet, when I would feature an independent or “just getting started” artist, they would almost always share the post on social networks, send me a thank you email, and much more (such as providing unreleased music, just for my site!)

Think that this strategy is exclusive to my niche?

Try replacing the word “blogger” with “artist” in the paragraphs above.

You can pursue the same strategy, reaching out to “up and comers”, by connecting with and featuring soon to be superstars in your niche.

My personal take on this strategy?

I started a weekly feature called “Follow Friday” where I would feature 7 independent artists who had submitted their tracks to me.

By pairing up these talented but not yet established artists, I would 7 separate personalities (and their growing following) sharing the same post all at once.

This not only provided a unique feature for my site, but it instantly got me more links and social shares.

Funny how that works: people with a lot to gain from you mentioning them will be grateful in return.

How to apply this to your blog:

Outside of just doing a featured post or linking to other bloggers, engage with them directly!

As an example: I did an interview with Rafal Tomal for my marketing blog Sparring Mind.

This post got a tremendously positive response, and it was because I took two talented WordPress designers who were established, but not so known as to make them “over-discussed”, and I got them to dish out their real opinions on what kind of blog designs convert well.

I took a topic people wanted to read, found under-appreciated talents that knew what they were talking about, and put them together for one dynamite post.

What kind of interviews & collaborations could you be forming with up-and-coming bloggers in your niche?

I had to ask myself that very question for both of these projects, but for my music blog I decided to go with musicians over fellow bloggers, but the general concept remains the same: collaborating with unique talent is a great way to build rapport with talented people and also provide useful content along with it.

3.) Using Social Media Correctly (Saving Time & Sanity)

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with social media.

On one hand, it’s great as an “icebreaker”, and creating connections that have long term positive effects for your brand, as well as being a good traffic source.

On the other hand, unless you are actively pursuing these end goals, social media can be a complete waste of time, even worse, it makes you feel like you are “working on your business” when in fact you are doing a whole lot of nothing.

The thing with a “cold” email is, without recognizing you, some people might simply ignore your initial contact or be hesitant to respond back to you.

I’ve found that for my blogs, social media (especially Twitter), is fantastic for laying the groundwork for future email discussions, which are usually where the real work gets done (I’m telling you, email really is top dog).

It’s often as simple as “tagging”, by utilizing mentions on either Facebook or Twitter to let a blogger (or in my case, a musician) know that you’ve mentioned them in some way.

I’d often do this for new music premiere’s, and many artists would gladly retweet to their large following, just as a way to say thanks.

Noted Psychology Professor Robert Cialdini (author of the popular Influence book) would describe this process as reciprocity, one of the 6 key ways to being more influential.

Giving to others often leads to them giving back, and scale is important in determining whether they will reciprocate and in what fashion.

What I mean by “scale” is how much your initial act effects them, that’s why connecting with those “around you” works so well: your impact on them is much greater.

Social media is your way of alerting them that you are doing do, and a great way to “pursue” traffic and increase the influence of your network, rather than just sitting around and waiting for these things to happen.

I use social media for two very specific purposes for my blog, one that is something general that any blog can do, and another that is very niche specific but brings me in a lot of traffic. (Hopefully they will serve as inspiration to you).

The first I briefly touched on above: I use social media as an icebreaker for larger projects.

I typically do this by starting a conversation with the a specific person’s latest tweets, and later I let them know I’d like to chat with them via email.

When people see you are interested in discussing something via email, they are generally receptive if you’ve shown yourself to be a coherent human being with good social media etiquette: that means it’s likely your email will most likely be interesting for them.

The second is simple notification, it’s something I use to practice effective guest blogging and it’s also something I use for my music blog.

On a guest post, alerting people via social media (or if you’ve established a relationship, via email) is a great way to notify them that you’ve featured something they’ve on a big blog. They will likely reciprocate by sharing the post with their followers, since it features them and they want repay you for the mention.

With my music blog, I would instead notify all of the independent artists who I feature using Twitter mentions and Facebook tagging. The thing is, 95% of people would then share the post, grateful that I had taken the time to feature their music.

Bloggers are likely to do the same, especially if you are connecting around you like I mentioned above (big bloggers don’t always have the time to reciprocate).

So, don’t just use social media to share links and post about your thoughts, use it to be social, notifying people and breaking the ice, which will hopefully lead to more productive discussions via email.

Q. How can you apply Ciotti's methods to your own blog?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Giving It Away: How Cory Doctorow Turned Tor Upside Down

Updated 1/15/24

Since this article (below) was published, it has become standard practice to give away ebooks, especially those that are self-published. And, Amazon's KDP platform has become the vehicle of choice for book freebies.

The enormous range of free books on Amazon means competition is fierce. The result is a cottage industry of services that will, for a small fee, advertise your free book. (There are also free promotional services, but, increasingly, the trend is to charge.)

With giving it away becoming increasingly costly (while producing fewer sales) it is no wonder authors are beginning to doubt the wisdom of the strategy.

Science fiction writer Cory Doctorow was one of the first authors to give his book away. But, unlike the current practice of using Amazon - where your book will be forced to compete against thousands of other free books - Cory gave his book away through his website. He had an advantage over self-publishers in that his book had already been picked up by Tor, which provided a pedigree. Nonetheless, Cory had an interesting approach, so I decided to try it myself.

Following Cory's lead, I placed the entire first edition of my medical book on my blog Onward Through the Fog. The book had been published by St. Martin's, so, like Cory's book, it had a pedigree. After posting it, traffic to my blog increased ten-fold. I did not sell more copies of the book (it was out of print) but the additional traffic got my name out there, and purchases of my second book increased significantly.

Bottom line: People like getting things for free. The trick is how you do it.

Related post:

Free Publicity for KDP Select Free Days


Giving It Away by Cory Doctorow

(Originally published in Forbes Magazine, Dec 1, 2006)

I've been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.

When my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor Books in January 2003, I also put the entire electronic text of the novel on the Internet under a Creative Commons License that encouraged my readers to copy it far and wide. Within a day, there were 30,000 downloads from my site (and those downloaders were in turn free to make more copies). Three years and six printings later, more than 700,000 copies of the book have been downloaded from my site. The book's been translated into more languages than I can keep track of, key concepts from it have been adopted for software projects and there are two competing fan audio adaptations online.

Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book--those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game. After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing.

The thing about an e-book is that it's a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life. Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation--when I worked in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up...." The friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.

There are two things that writers ask me about this arrangement: First, does it sell more books, and second, how did you talk your publisher into going for this mad scheme?

There's no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books--but I've done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I'll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher's expectations. Comparing their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in their careers. But short of going back in time and re-releasing the same books under the same circumstances without the free e-book program, there's no way to be sure.

What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more.

How did I talk Tor Books into letting me do this? It's not as if Tor is a spunky dotcom upstart. They're the largest science fiction publisher in the world, and they're a division of the German publishing giant Holtzbrinck. They're not patchouli-scented info-hippies who believe that information wants to be free. Rather, they’re canny assessors of the world of science fiction, perhaps the most social of all literary genres. Science fiction is driven by organized fandom, volunteers who put on hundreds of literary conventions in every corner of the globe, every weekend of the year. These intrepid promoters treat books as markers of identity and as cultural artifacts of great import. They evangelize the books they love, form subcultures around them, cite them in political arguments, sometimes they even rearrange their lives and jobs around them.

What's more, science fiction's early adopters defined the social character of the Internet itself. Given the high correlation between technical employment and science fiction reading, it was inevitable that the first nontechnical discussion on the Internet would be about science fiction. The online norms of idle chatter, fannish organizing, publishing and leisure are descended from SF fandom, and if any literature has a natural home in cyberspace, it's science fiction, the literature that coined the very word "cyberspace."

Indeed, science fiction was the first form of widely pirated literature online, through "bookwarez" channels that contained books that had been hand-scanned, a page at a time, converted to digital text and proof-read. Even today, the mostly widely pirated literature online is SF.

Nothing could make me more sanguine about the future. As publisher Tim O'Reilly wrote in his seminal essay, Piracy is Progressive Taxation, "being well-enough known to be pirated [is] a crowning achievement." I'd rather stake my future on a literature that people care about enough to steal than devote my life to a form that has no home in the dominant medium of the century.

What about that future? Many writers fear that in the future, electronic books will come to substitute more readily for print books, due to changing audiences and improved technology. I am skeptical of this--the codex format has endured for centuries as a simple and elegant answer to the affordances demanded by print, albeit for a relatively small fraction of the population. Most people aren't and will never be readers--but the people who are readers will be readers forever, and they are positively pervy for paper.

But say it does come to pass that electronic books are all anyone wants.
I don't think it's practical to charge for copies of electronic works. Bits aren't ever going to get harder to copy. So we'll have to figure out how to charge for something else. That's not to say you can't charge for a copy-able bit, but you sure can't force a reader to pay for access to information anymore.

This isn't the first time creative entrepreneurs have gone through one of these transitions. Vaudeville performers had to transition to radio, an abrupt shift from having perfect control over who could hear a performance (if they don't buy a ticket, you throw them out) to no control whatsoever (any family whose 12-year-old could build a crystal set, the day's equivalent of installing file-sharing software, could tune in). There were business models for radio, but predicting them a priori wasn't easy. Who could have foreseen that radio's great fortunes would be had through creating a blanket license, securing a Congressional consent decree, chartering a collecting society and inventing a new form of statistical mathematics to fund it?

Predicting the future of publishing--should the wind change and printed books become obsolete--is just as hard. I don't know how writers would earn their living in such a world, but I do know that I'll never find out by turning my back on the Internet. By being in the middle of electronic publishing, by watching what hundreds of thousands of my readers do with my e-books, I get better market intelligence than I could through any other means. As does my publisher. As serious as I am about continuing to work as a writer for the foreseeable future, Tor Books and Holtzbrinck are just as serious. They've got even more riding on the future of publishing than me. So when I approached my publisher with this plan to give away books to sell books, it was a no-brainer for them.

It's good business for me, too. This "market research" of giving away e-books sells printed books. What's more, having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans' tireless evangelism for my work doesn't just sell books--it sells me.

The golden age of hundreds of writers who lived off of nothing but their royalties is bunkum. Throughout history, writers have relied on day jobs, teaching, grants, inheritances, translation, licensing and other varied sources to make ends meet. The Internet not only sells more books for me, it also gives me more opportunities to earn my keep through writing-related activities.

There has never been a time when more people were reading more words by more authors. The Internet is a literary world of written words. What a fine thing that is for writers.

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author and co-editor of Boing Boing, a popular Weblog about technology, culture and politics. His work is available on

Original article:

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Children's Digital Market: Still Uncharted Territory

(Article by Gabe Habash, originally posted on Publishers Weekly 1/19/13) 

The growing complexity of the children’s digital market was parsed by industry experts at the Publishers Launch Children's Publishing Goes Digital Conference in New York on January 15, as panelists and speakers agreed that the transition from print to digital will not be a clean, easy movement and that things are still very much in the experimentation stage. The day-long conference kicked off with the presentation of the findings from a recent study by Bowker that found that among children, there has been a marked decline in bookstore and library influence as a source of recommendation and acquisition, and that many purchases are instead migrating online to vendors like Amazon. The study is part of Bowker’s Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age.

Friends and family overtook bookstore browsing and libraries as the top influencers, painting the picture of the children’s book market as a highly local word-of-mouth economy. The erosion of libraries and bookstores may be misleading, though, as Gretchen Caserotti of the Darien Public Library used a case study involving Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm, which Caserotti said the library system recommended to the local school systems, and that based on the library’s recommendation (and a local award for the book), the school system widely assigned the book in classrooms. When asked how they heard about Grimm, students would most often respond that they heard of it through friends, even though the book was largely implemented because of the push of the library.

The Bowker study had some surprises, most notably: 84% of YA books were purchased by consumers 18 or older – and a full 35% of YA books were bought by consumers aged 18-29, by far the largest demographic. The second-largest demographic was age 30-44; within that segment, dispelling the notion that the YA books are gifts or purchases for teens, fully 80% of respondents reported “they bought the book for themselves.”

In all areas of media use with the exception of video games, girls outpaced boys, both in terms of behavior and in their willingness to engage in discussion.

On the topic of digital, a surprising shift back to print was seen since spring 2012, and for the year e-book adoption growth was flat among teens, with some evidence that teens liked print more in the fall than they did in the spring. One possible reason for this, according to Bookigee CEO Kristen McLean, could be the “shininess” wearing off new devices and, as people become accustomed to what digital can offer, they are making more nuanced decisions regarding reading habits.

Supporting the Bowker finding about teen attitudes toward digital, members of Nook’s digital team shared the fact from a 2012 Figment survey that said 35% of teens are reluctant to embrace digital reading. Kashif Zafar of Nook also revealed that the majority of Nook e-books are purchased on a device and that that number is growing. Further, he said, customers are very aware of price point and level of interactivity, with a gravitation toward full read-and-play titles (the highest level of interactivity).

Perhaps the most eye-opening statistic of the day was that the unit share for online sellers is 41%, but the discovery share for online sellers is 5%. The figure was presented by Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex Group, who stated that the disparity indicates that e-tailers need new strategies when it comes to discovery. A study done by Codex Group in December 2012 found that schools are still the greatest discovery source for books for children, with the category “schools, professionals (teachers, librarians, etc.), and groups” at 28% being the most common answer by parents asked where they found out about the last book they purchased for their child. Within that category, book fairs were the biggest contributor. After that category, 23% of respondents said they found out about the book from their child, 20% said a physical bookseller, and 12% said through digital. And to further show digital’s lagging influence in the children’s sphere, 81% said the recommendation for the book came “in person,” and only 5% said it came through social media.

One area where digital children’s books is beginning to make headway is in the school systems. Todd Brekhus of myON, a digital reading platform that doubled its revenue and number of titles in the last year, estimated that the education technology is a $7.76 billion market, and that it’s a great opportunity for publishers to match the right titles with the right readers. Terri Lynn Soutor of Brain Hive, another growing digital reading platform for schools, stated that there’s been an 83% increase in the number of e-books on a per school average nationwide, and that $42 million was spent on e-books in the U.S. last year. Soutor echoed Brekhus’s point regarding the opportunity that the still largely untapped education technology market holds for publishers, stressing that it’s a low risk proposition and there’s no product development investment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"How I Became a Best-Selling Author": Self-publishing is upending the book industry. One woman's unlikely road to a hit novel.

Original cover by Darcie Chan
Updated 1/14/24

This is an older article, but the self-publishing industry really hasn't changed all that much. Darcie Chan's experience still resonates among writers who have been turned down by hundreds of agents and dozens of publishers. After waiting five years for agents and publishers to take notice of her, Darcie decided to take matters into her own hands.

Her strategy was to pay for a review on Kirkus, which fortunately was favorable. Then she published her book on Amazon for 99 cents. She says that when she sold 100 books she danced around the kitchen, but the real boost came when her book got a mention on Ereader News Today.

Ultimately, Chan's key to success was getting promoted on a bigger platform. 

For more information on Kirkus and other paid review sites

High-Impact Paid Promotion for Indie Authors

Related articles

10 Self-Publishing Success Stories Every Author Should Know


How I Became a Best-Selling Author

December 9, 2011, Yahoo Finance 

This summer, Darcie Chan's debut novel became an unexpected hit. It has sold more than 400,000 copies and landed on the best-seller lists alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett.
It's been a success by any measure, save one. Ms. Chan still hasn't found a publisher.
Five years ago, Ms. Chan's novel, "The Mill River Recluse," which tells the story of a wealthy Vermont widow who bestows her fortune on town residents who barely knew her, would have languished in a drawer. A dozen publishers and more than 100 literary agents rejected it.
"Nobody was willing to take a chance," says Ms. Chan, a 37-year-old lawyer who drafts environmental legislation. "It was too much of a publishing risk."
This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish it herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print.
The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era. Just as music executives have been sidestepped by YouTube sensations and indie iTunes hits, book publishers are losing ground to independent authors and watching their powerful status as literary gatekeepers wither.
Self-publishing has long been derided as a last resort for authors who lack the talent or savvy to hack it in the publishing business. But it has gained a patina of legitimacy as a growing number of self-published authors land on best-seller lists. Last year, 133,036 self-published titles were released, up from 51,237 in 2006, according to Bowker, a company that tracks publishing trends.
A handful of self-published authors have achieved blockbuster status, selling more than a million copies of their books on the Kindle. While they represent a tiny minority of independent authors, the ranks of the successful are growing. Thirty authors have sold more than 100,000 copies of their books through Amazon's Kindle self-publishing program, and a dozen have sold more than 200,000 copies, according to Amazon. The program, which Amazon launched in 2007, allows authors to upload their books directly to Amazon's Kindle store, set their own prices and publish in multiple languages. Barnes & Noble followed suit in 2010 with a similar program for its Nook e-reader.
Self-published titles have been buoyed by an explosion in digital book sales. E-book sales totaled $878 million in 2010, compared to $287 million in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers. Some analysts project that e-book sales will pass $2 billion in 2013.

Read the rest of this story HERE.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Top 5 Online Resources for Children's and YA Book Writers

Updated 1/12/24

Children's books are a burgeoning market. Along with the YA market, they constitute the most popular - and top-grossing - genre of books.

Although some small publishing houses still accept manuscripts from writers, the larger houses require an agent. As a consequence, agents who specialize in children's books are burgeoning as well.

Writers who are daunted by the process of securing a publisher are increasingly turning to self-publication, a field which is burgeoning along with children's book agents, writers, and publishers.

With all this burgeoning, where can a children's book writer find reliable, comprehensive, and concise information about publishing and marketing? 

Among the spate of websites that offer information about the world of children's literature, there are five that stand out as particularly useful. Make these the first stops on your path to publication.

Related Posts:

23 US Children's Book Publishers Accepting Manuscripts Directly From Writers

10 UK Children's Book Publishers Accepting Manuscripts Directly from Writers


1. Literary Rambles: Spotlighting Children's Book Authors, Agents and Publishing

Hosts: Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre

If you are looking for an agent, this blog is for you! Every Thursday this site puts the spotlight on an agent who represents children's fiction. The spotlight profiles what these agents are looking for, personal quotes, interviews, response times, what other writers are saying about their professionalism, as well as linking up their web presence – all in one convenient post.

Site features: Over 120 agent spotlights, list of agencies representing children's books, interviews, helpful posts, and numerous links to agent blogs, editor blogs and forums. Also included is an agent search by age category (PB, MG or YA). Be sure to look at the wonderful list of resources on the right sidebar.

2. Rachelle Burk's Resources for Writers

Host: Rachelle Burk

This blog provides one-stop shopping for children's book authors. Rachelle Burk, a children's book writer from New Jersey, has compiled an extensive list of resources designed to help writers with every aspect of their careers – from writing tips to legal advice.

Site features: Helpful writing articles, Publisher/Agent Warning sites, Publisher Listings, Agents, Editors, Query and Cover Letters, Websites: Sources and articles about writing for children, Newsletters and E-zines, Online Forums, Critique Groups, Critique and Editing Services, Author Visits, Nonfiction Writing, Work-For-Hire and Freelance, Reference Resources, Rhyming and Poetry, Writing Organizations, Workshops, Courses and Conferences, Legal Advice, Contests and Awards, Teacher’s Guides, Book Reviewers, Illustrators and Images, Self-Publishing, Print on Demand and Subsidy Publishers, Electronic Publishing, Book Marketing and Promotion, Author Sites for Book Promotion, Books on Writing for Children, National and International Writers' Organizations, Blog List. Of special interest: Resources for Kids Who Write.

3. Writing for Children

Writing-World is an all-around resource for writers of every stripe. The children's book page contains a list of eye-opening articles.

Site features: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, Picture Books, YA Books, Agents, Publishers, Book Promotion and Author Interviews. Of special interest: Specialized Markets.

4. Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

If you haven't already joined the SCBWI, now's the time! With membership, you get The SCBWI Bulletin, a bi-monthly publication containing the most current, comprehensive information about the field of children’s literature. The Bulletin includes the latest marketing reports; articles on writing, illustrating, and publishing; contests and awards announcements; SCBWI member news; and ongoing SCBWI activities throughout the world.

Site features (free): Comprehensive list of awards and grants. The “Find a Speaker” search bar is a great way to locate other children's book writers in your area (which is absolutely essential for networking).

5. Children's Books Resources

This site features: Links to children's book publishers, submission guidelines, children's book illustrators sites, Writing Children's Books Courses, Sites About Writing for Children, and How tos for writing and publishing. The website also includes Australian, British and Canadian publishers.

Additional sites of interest

The YA Bookshelf - The YA Bookshelf hosts young adult literature contests and giveaways.

International Association of School Librarianship - Databases of children's books, national and international councils, digital libraries, Bologna book fair, and more.

Writing-World - Wide range of articles on writing picture books and young adult books, information on publishers and agents, as well as features on book promotion.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The 4-Hour Bestseller

In 2007 Tim Ferriss made marketing history by becoming an instant bestselling author on both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal's coveted lists. Prior to the release of his book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, Ferriss was a complete unknown in the publishing world. So how did he become an overnight sensation?

The answer is that he didn't. What looks like an overnight sensation to the outside world is actually the product of many months of hard, sustained labor. That is not news to anybody. We all know that publishing a successful book requires work.

The question is: What kind of work?

Some kinds of work simply do not pay off. For example, nearly everything you do after your book is published is an uphill battle. Everyone in the business world knows that you have to build interest in a product before it is available, books included.

How did Ferriss do it?

What Tim Ferriss did was revolutionary (at the time). He completely ignored the usual marketing channels and went straight to the Internet. By the time his book was released, his name was all over the web on sites that got traffic in the thousands per day. How did he pull it off?

Ferriss went to blogging conferences and hung out with bloggers for six months prior to releasing his book. More specifically, he hung out with their wives. Popular bloggers are just as hard to reach as big-name agents. So, to reach them, Ferriss simply shmoozed with their nearest and dearest. And because Ferris was under 30, attractive, and personable, he made an impression on them. Before long, he was the talk of the cybertown. And when his book came out, he continued to be a rage on the Internet, making his own blog just as popular as those of the bloggers he had originally courted.

It was the American Dream come true – hard work, the entrepreneurial spirit, bootstraps, huge success, piles of money, rags-to-riches, overcoming obstacles – all the claptrap that makes good Americans weep at mall movie complexes everywhere.

You can do it, too!

If you don't have the nerve to snuggle up to bloggers' better halves, or to cold-call famous authors and ask them how they achieved success (Ferriss did that as well), you still have the option of building your Internet presence using more subtle techniques.
  1. Six months prior to releasing your book, launch your author website. If you haven't published anything yet, put a brief, interesting bio, and an attractive photo on your home page. You can post a picture of the cover of your forthcoming book and sample chapter. (Only if it is ready for publication. Do not post works in progress.) Start a blog. Write about a topic for which you have some expertise. (It doesn't necessarily have to match the subject of your book.) List your blog on blog directories.
  1. Start reading blogs on subjects that are similar to yours. Make comments. List their blogs on your site. Follow them, and they will follow you. (There appears to be no leader in this game.)
  1. Write guest blogs for sites that get more traffic than yours. (You can re-post them on your own blog afterward.) Write articles for ezines. Build your credentials as an author.
  1. If you can get to a bloggers conference, then go ahead. Meeting people in the flesh is still the best way to develop contacts. But, unless you are a dead ringer for Mae West, don't walk up to a blogger and ask if they'd like to come up and see your manuscript sometime. (Ask them to have a drink instead.)
You will have to do a fair amount of research to find blogs similar to yours. And it will take time to keep up with your own blog and everybody else's. But, unless your last name is Obama, you'll just have to roll up your shirtsleeves and get down to it. After all, Timothy Ferriss did it and all he had was chutzpah.

Essential reading:

How blogs helped Tim Ferriss create a bestseller.

How To Use a Viral Idea to Create a Best Seller

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