Surprises and Updates

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Last week I opened up a crime novel translated into English from Norwegian and saw the logos in th20141209_175410e picture to the right. It startled me because I’d never seen a sponsorship before (even one like this, which is sort of indirect).  I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Have y’all seen this type of thing before?  It distracted me, but I don’t know if it distracted me only because I’m a writer and noticed it.  And I wondered…what if writers were being offered corporate underwriting or sponsorship directly?  Would it have an effect on your content?  Is this something we might be hearing more about?

I’ve noticed a dip in sales numbers since September. In fact, I launched a self-pubbed book in September and was initially excited about the timing because I knew I’d get my royalty check in late November right before Christmas shopping time.  Although the check from Amazon was still a decent-sized check, it was about half of what I usually make for the first month of a self-pubbed release.  As usual, I have no data (never any decent data in this business), but I suspect that Kindle Unlimited (which I’m not enrolled in) may potentially be having a ripple effect. Other authors have mentioned the same thing.  Whatever the origin, it seems to have impacted my audio, CreateSpace, and Kindle sales.  My Smashwords, Nook, and Apple sales are at the same level as they always are.

Have you thought about what you want to accomplish with your writing in 2015? I’m currently working on a production plan for next year.  Although a production plan can sound scary, it’s really just an actionable to-do list.  I make a list of the books I want to write for the year (either traditionally published or self-published) and then all the tasks associated with each book. These tasks include writing time, editing time, and production time (cover design, formatting, professional editing, uploading, and promo). Then I take the items and put deadlines/reminders on my Google calendar to keep myself on track. It’s an easy way to help retain focus during the year.  I spoke with author Stephen Campbell in a podcast for The Author Biz about production plans, setting up a self-publishing team, ACX, Wattpad, and other topics.

As a follow up on my “Getting Reviews” post, I wanted to report that the recent free sale I ran did end up netting me 46 reviews and a boost in sales after the sale was over.  So…it’s something to consider if you’re looking at a book that could use some more reviews. Sales tend to work better than any other method, in my experience.

Hope everyone has a nice weekend!  Do you have any updates or business-related thoughts, yourself?

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37 thoughts on “Surprises and Updates

  1. Hi Elizabeth! Noticing a dip in sales here, too…even for a cool Christmas trivia eBook I have up for sale. Hmm. I opted out of the KDP Select program for most of my self-pubbed books, so I’m not sure if that’s having an effect or not (especially since, supposedly, Kindle Unlimited feeds into the Select fund).

    Never heard of the sponsorship thing; how bizarre! I wonder how that even works?

    I love writing–have two traditional M/B/S books in the work (under contract)–but want to delve into fiction writing. I just wish we didn’t have to do so much technical and biz stuff! :oP

    1. Janet–I’ve not ever done the KDP Select program, either. Maybe sales will bump back up again soon.

      I think, for this particular book, the corporate sponsorship went to pay for the costs of translation, covering the book for a US audience, etc. It was a trad-published book…but it would be interesting if a market opened up for top indies to have sponsorships. I just wonder if that would be a corrupting influence at all.

  2. I’ve heard the same thing from others about KU. I suppose even if authors aren’t enrolled, it probably makes a different in sales across the board.

    I like your idea of making a plan and entering dates into your calendar. Gosh, I’m not even close to being that on task. I’m a pro at procrastination though!

    1. Julie–I can imagine why…during this expensive time of the year, readers might want to pursue free books. Totally understandable. Just hope it’s not permanent!

      Those little deadlines really help!

  3. Hi Elizabeth – the production plan is something I must implement .. so thanks for the reminder. Interesting about the ‘sponsorship’ or whatever the ads are doing there … I probably would skip over – but once I was involved and up and running with published books – perhaps I’d take more notice … and I’d be left wondering too ..

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Hilary–And an editorial calendar is useful, too…especially for your blog. I know you do so much research and blogging that I’d imagine it would really help you out.

      At first I wondered if the bank and retail sponsorship affected the content, but then realized it probably wouldn’t in this case, since it was a translation. But what if it were a sponsorship for original content?

      1. The translation was funded by the state (Norwegians in Minnesota, eh?) and the MSABOS is supported by those organizations, who probably insist on having their logos displayed. Which makes sponsorship, in this case, moot.

        However, I cannot imagine a case where sponsorship of a work of fiction would affect the content any differently from the way hope of sales would affect it.

        Shakespeare had a sponsor. Most of his sonnets were written for that sponsor. Anyone care to speak ill of them? I think not.

        All artists who sell their art have to compartmentalize: art here, business there. Otherwise (according to endless studies by numerous experts in brain science) a focus on extrinsic rewards diminishes creativity. (In English: think about money while you’re painting and your painting is less creative.)

        Sponsorship done right is the backbone of the arts. Any artist would be lucky to have someone care enough about their art to sponsor them — assuming, of course, that the sponsor’s role begins and ends with a paycheck, and the artist has the integrity to know it.

        1. Joel–Definitely a circuitous route for support. Yeah, I wondered about Minnesota and the Norwegian audience. :)

          I would *love* a corporate patron, lol. I may not give them my most precious ideas or books-of-my-heart, but I’d happily write whatever they wanted me to write, schedule permitting. But then…I embrace being a commercial writer.

          1. You still seem to be thinking of “patron” as meaning “advisor” or “partner”, someone who has a say in the art.

            What if they simply said “Put our logo and/or name in the acknowledgements of your next book. Here’s $1,000.” No strings, no nothing.

            Why not use those funds to allow you time for your greatest work to come out?

    1. Alex–This was a library book (a printed book), so it was sort of glaringly obvious. Not sure how it would play in a digital version (I rarely see the copyright page in the ebooks I read). Maybe these corporations would want more visibility in an ebook version.

  4. Elizabeth – I haven’t seen sponsorship logos like that before. But I do think it’s something we might be seeing at some point more frequently. Would it affect content? I think a writer who doesn’t want it to would have to make that sure that creative license was spelled out very clearly in the contract. As to writing plans for 2015? I’m roughing mine out now…

  5. Hi Elizabeth,

    Sorry to hear that KU might be having a negative affect on you, too! I don’t know yet if it will affect me (I’m not in the program).

    Those ads would be annoying to me, like Target tapping me on the shoulder as I read. Maybe it’s something a reader gets used to after a while.

    I like your production plan – great approach! I’ll definitely have to try that. The hard part is that I’m such a SLOW writer. (And a crappy promoter, but that’s another tale of woe).

    Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season for you and your family!
    ~Kathy

    1. Kathy–Hope KU won’t affect your sales! It may just be me.

      Yeah, that Target logo really jumped out at me. But then I’m thinking, “Does anyone really look at the copyright page, or am I the only one?” :)

      You can set your production plan allowing for your own pace. Some things can be done simultaneously (I commission covers when I’m still writing the book, for instance). So it can help ultimately save time, even if the writing pace is a bit slower.

      Happy holidays to you, Kathy!

  6. Production list?

    Stop it. Too scary. Stephen King story in an empty house at 3 AM scary!

    I try to put the business logic around my avocation. I’m about as definite as the wind. The best I can do is “this draft” and maybe “next draft” though if you ask in a week, “next draft” topics will have changed.

    I’m working at it. One of the things which happens as we “writers” move to the “producing author” realm is that the professionalism of our management practices must improve. The emotional barrier to structure and control can be as great as the emotional barrier to submission and the release of our written words.

    This whole process is no different than starting a business: most of the barriers to initial success are internal. Doesn’t make it any easier to overcome them.

    For me, I have a trio of “mad scientist” story drafts with a fifteen-year old girl as the protagonist. I’m definitely going to get a full novel draft out of Kate and her world next year. The short stories aren’t working because there is more to the world building than I can cut into 3500 words. I’m not good enough yet.

    There is a little more latitude in the novel if I don’t get sloppy. I’ve too much invested in the characters of these stories to let them fade. Must. Write. Story.

    The press to write the current projects is overtaking my ability to sleep. At 2:30 AM when you wander the house jotting little notes: that’s Bukowski’s “bursting out of you” disease, isn’t it? I swear this is a type of madness.

    How do you discipline yourself to focus on “what needs to be written” instead of the “bright and shiny” glimmer bit you think of in the grocery store? How does that discipline come about? Are there more pen names out there than you’ve disclosed?

    1. Jack–Lol. :) It keeps me from *being* scared. I have so much to write that in the past I’ve sat straight up in bed at night in horror, thinking I’d missed an outline deadline or a revision deadline, etc. (which, technically, would put me in breach of contract and I’d have to pay advance money back. Advance money that I’d already spent…) The reason I like to call it a production schedule is that it reminds me again that hey…this is a business. I can’t be my loosey-goosey creative self with this stuff or I’ll end up in trouble.

      I like the mad scientist story drafts! And a 15 year old protagonist whose *female* is a great twist.

      2:30 is a great time to write. :)

      Okay, yeah, I get a lot of those shimmery, glimmering bits in the Harris Teeter produce aisle. Past answer to the problem is that I usually try to work them into a WiP unless it’s just too outlandish to do so. Current answer is that I’m now writing a glimmering bit that *will not* allow itself to be put aside (and, since it involves zombies…I know, I know, don’t ask…can’t be worked into a cozy mystery..ha!) in the afternoons and working on paid-for stuff in the mornings. At some point I may end up very, very confused and end up with a zombie with my quilting senior sleuth. This may get me fired by Penguin. :)

      And yes…most *definitely* will be putting that book out with a pen name!

  7. I’m pushing to get my 3rd book out before year end. I wanted to release 4 this year, so that’s pretty close.

    2015 is year 2 of my writing-as-a-living experiment. I need to have a tighter writing schedule, and tools in place to let me shift between projects without wearing myself out creatively (emotionally.)

    I’d love to release one new entry in each of my 4 series plus my business fable next year, which means staying focused and working it like a business. A guy who wrote 9 business books should be able to pull that off, eh?

    1. I’ve released as many as 4, but that was pushing it for me. I can usually write 3 1/2 books a year and that’s where I am for the year, now. The burnout, for me, starts edging in after that point.

      But switching between series is easier, I think, and less likely to cause any burnout. I felt more burned-out this year because I was mainly working on one series…and feeling drained after doing a few in a row.

  8. Elizabeth, it was a matter of time before corporate sponsorship invaded publishing. It has already crashed into the film industry as evident from movies like CAST AWAY where FedEx advertised in a big way. I guess, as long as sponsors don’t dictate how or what an author should write or how a publisher ought to print , it’s fine with me and probably good for sales. However, the corporate logos should stay only on the copyright page and not trespass elsewhere in the book.

    1. Prashant–And those corporate sponsorships are really obvious to me, as a moviegoer. I think ET was the first movie to do it, though….which means it’s been around for a while. I agree with you–I wouldn’t want the logos anywhere obtrusive.

  9. I suspect that this kind of sponsorship will continue as it has — attached to cultural endowments and and trusts. Underwriting of some sort in a larger way. (Too hard for individual authors to get Wells Fargo to give them cash, as it were.)

    As for my plans — I’ve started a weekly fiction podcast, and while it’s a major undertaking, it’s also sparking my creative juices. Even though I’m not yet setting writing goals for the year, I suspect my productivity will go up anyway.

    1. Camille–Yes, I can imagine the work it would make for these types of corporations to fund individuals. Much easier to fund an endowment (probably a good tax write-off, too).

      Glad the podcast is working out so well for you! That’s the best thing…when our creativity in one area feeds another.

  10. TV and Movies have been sponsored through “placement” ads for decades, I’ve considered using my marketing skills to sell the concept in my books. As in, the hero drives a Ford Taurus because it’s so reliable and doesn’t scream insecurity. Or, the good guys use a Toshiba laptop to gain access to the evil lair. But I’ve not yet tried it.

    Ben Franklin pioneered ads in his Pennsylvania Gazette and they quickly became the business model for newpapers and magazines. But the high-minded literary world never gave in … until now. I think it’s inevitable as long as we’re giving our books away.

    Peace, Seeley

    1. Seeley–It would be nice to have marketing skills! I’m sorely lacking in them.

      I think ads would need to be unobtrusive, unless they were somehow worked in as product placement. As a reader who’s a writer…ads distract me. But I really wonder if readers even notice. They’re inundated with ads for every other medium.

    2. My WIP, due out as an e-book in February or March, has a lot of places, including restaurants in Oklahoma and Kansas, Glock pistols, etc., and I plan to use the “branding” idea in advertising when appropriate. So we’ll see if that works!

      1. John–So, are you planning on contacting the restaurants? Would they possibly sell them there (when/if you decide to put out a print copy) or pay for the mention? Just wondering how that gets set up (and wondering if I have the chutzpah to do something like that…ha! I’d be a lot more comfortable with someone contacting *me* instead of the other way around…) Smart idea, though.

  11. Production schedule: indeed! Thanks for the reminder,

    Did you see Coker’s blog post last month? It’s KU to some extent, but it’s also the sheer number of good ebooks. No silver bullets, unfortunately; all we can do is tweak/up our games if we’re already doing what we’re supposed to and let the dust shake out in the meantime.

  12. I think everyone’s noticed a dip in sales – in fact the data is in: there was a 2% inflection in e-book sales in this quarter. So this is the end of the free ride we got out of the novelty of e-books: they’re no longer quite so novel, so this is normal. The slowdown goes hand in hand with the fact that the market is now “mature”.

    It also means that any production plan for 2015 should take this into account. There are several ways to deal with this – and all have to do with marketing strategies. For some, it will make sense to seek a traditional deal with a publisher (largely because they haven’t experienced any dip in sales, paperbacks are holding up quite well), for others it will mean more investment in ads and related sales strategies, for others yet, it might mean a more “hybrid approach”…

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